Thrift SCORE!

Do you ever find such amazing things at the thrift store that you’re just dying to share?

I’ve had a few of those experiences lately. They include books at the St. Vincent De Paul for $1.49, then marked half off …

A men’s Calvin Klein jacket, brand-new condition, for $4.99:

The yogurt maker, large Crock Pot, and brand-new games scored at Goodwill recently for 80% off retail (don’t have photos of those).

This copy of “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” for $2, complete with notes, additional recipes and loving homebrew splatters from the previous owner:

(we have our first batch of beer brewing as I write — watch for a post on homebrewing coming up)

This cookbook found at Goodwill on Saturday (watch for some experiments based on its contents!):

Then there are gently used shoes … I’ve purchased a pair of Keen sandals for Mlle. Cheap [note the new name: now that she is nearly 8, she finds “Little” offensive] for $2 (retail: $50) and recently bought a pair of child-size Doc Martens, the de rigeur footwear of my youth and an orthopedic classic, for $3 (retail: $60).

And I’ve saved my happiest score of all for last: I’ve been needing to replace a pair of clogs that I’ve worn extensively for two years. They go on sale periodically for around $50. But a couple of weeks ago, I stopped in at a new Goodwill on a whim and found these Danskos instead, for $4.99 (retail: $115).

They have white scuffs on the toes … which is something I always do to my own shoes anyway. If I get into a not-so-lazy/busy phase I’ll go find the shoe polish and cover it up. They are brown AND black, which is perfect for my wardrobe. And best of all, I’ve always wanted to try this brand, but didn’t want to spend that much when I wasn’t 100 percent sure they would be comfortable. (The verdict: They are comfortable after all!)

All of these finds are especially thrilling because I’ve been concerned recently that the growing popularity of thrift stores would mean declining quality in the goods therein — but not so, thrifty friends.

What are your favorite thrift “scores”?

How to use coupons (and get the most from your grocery bill)

Saving on groceries. It’s a trend, it’s a necessity, it’s addictive. I know, because I’m one of those people who comes home and crows about those little numbers on my grocery receipt. (Today, I saved 38 percent. Last week, it was 41 percent. I think my all-time high was a very special 52 percent.)

How do you do it?

Well, every week, your newspaper carries hundreds of dollars worth of coupons. More might come to your home in a Valpak or similar mailer. Online, you’ll find zillions more coupons. Combine those with other deals and you’re off and running.

So just how do you find them and use them? J Pruitt asked this question on an older deals post. I’ll provide a few suggestions here. I’m sure you all know many more, so please chime in in the comments. And don’t forget to check last month’s article with 21 ways to save on groceries.

Use a price book

If you have a great memory, you can do the basics in your head. Otherwise, make a price book (Google it or check here for details):

  1. Know the prices of the things you buy so you can tell if they’re really on sale.
  2. Compare brand names to store-brand names. Compare the price with the coupon to the available price on the store brand. Check by ounce or by container size — one can might be 18 ounces and one 15 ounces.

Find coupons

Coupons are like free money — as long as they don’t motivate you to buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need or that is still expensive with coupons. Here’s where to find coupons:

  1. Check your Sunday newspaper.
  2. Ask friends or relatives who don’t bother with coupons to save their circulars for you. You can use multiple copies of the same coupon to buy multiple items that are on sale — stock up!
  3. Check your Wednesday newspaper (or whenever the food section and extra ads might appear during the week). Our paper sometimes has extra copies of the coupon circular in the Wednesday paper.
  4. Sign up for the shopper card. Give your correct contact information. You will get money off at the register, and some retailers will mail you valuable coupons. (I often get coupons for $2 off a produce purchase, or $10 off a purchase of $100 or more, as well as money off specific products that I purchase regularly.)
  5. Go online. Two of the biggest coupon sites are SmartSource.com and CoolSavings.com. (I did this in preparing this post — in just a few minutes I found 7 coupons with a value of $5 before doubling, or $7 doubled.)
  6. Take the register coupons that print out when you check out. If you don’t need them, recycle them or leave them for someone else.
  7. Check other stores, like Walgreens. Walgreens has an EasySaver coupon circular online or inside the store. Each month, several items are free with a rebate. If you apply the rebate to a gift card, you receive an additional 10 percent off.

Find sales

The surest way to get the very best deal is to combine a coupon with a sale price. Check your store circular, or find it online. Visit your grocery store Web site or try MyGroceryDeals.com — you sign in and find sales and coupons for your zip code. (This site was mentioned in the comments on my 21 ways to save post.)

Double your coupons

Many grocery stores double coupons up to $1. This means they double any coupon with a face value of less than a dollar, for a total value of no more than a dollar. A coupon worth $0.25 is doubled and redeemed for $0.50. A coupon worth $0.55 has $0.45 added to the value for a total redemption of $1. Any other coupon up to $1 is worth $1, and any coupon of $1 or more is redeemed at its face value.

About.com has a list of stores that double coupons, by state. To be sure, call your local store and ask.

Get organized

Use your coupons in whatever way works best for you. Some people take the whole circular shopping with them and look for coupons when they get to something they want to buy.

I use a coupon organizer that I found at Goodwill for 99 cents. I added additional dividers for categories I use. Every Sunday, I cut out coupons for the items I need. At some point during the week, I take the coupons off the counter and put them in the organizer. When I am going to do a big grocery shopping trip, I make a list as follows:

  1. I check for things we’ve run out of and need immediately and add those to the list.
  2. I look through the sale flier and add the super deals to the list. (For instance, this week cream cheese is 79 cents. I will probably buy about 5 blocks, depending when the expiration dates are.)
  3. I sort through my coupons. I discard coupons that are expired … except the ones that just expired. Sometimes those are worth a try!
  4. I pull out coupons that match sales — those are the best deals.
  5. I pull out coupons that will expire in the next couple of weeks — if there’s a good price, I might use them before they expire.
  6. I keep the new coupons out — sometimes those are for an item that is on sale because it’s new and hot.
  7. I sort the coupons in approximately the order in which the store is organized.

I write the coupon items on my list, or just put the list on top of the coupons and head for the store. As I shop, I compare coupons and prices. If it works, I put the item in the cart (of course!) and tuck the coupon behind my list. If not, I stick the coupon back in the front of my organizer and deal with it later.

Scan as you shop

Don’t forget to keep an eye on the shelves. I’ve found many things on sale that weren’t listed in the flier. Especially for your regular purchases — for me, canned beans, cream cheese, milk, produce and my weakness in packaged goods, Betty Crocker cookie mixes — always take a look in case they are on sale. Another reason, too, for going through the coupons is that you’ll have an idea while shopping that you have a coupon for a certain item so you can save more.

Buy low, live high on the hog

When an item is on sale for the cheapest you’ve ever seen it, don’t just buy one — buy as many as you’ll possibly use before the expiration date. Then don’t buy it again until it goes on sale again for a great price. If you must buy while it’s high, buy one and wait until you buy more. Truly, this is the key to great prices. I have many boxes of crackers in my storage room, because they are regularly priced low at Costco — and I had a coupon to save $2.50 more per box.

Store well

Learn how to store things. Milk can be frozen — so if you find a great sale, be sure there’s some headroom in the carton so it doesn’t explode, and pop it in the freezer. If I find onions are $1 a pound at King Soopers and $0.39 a pound at Costco, I buy the enormous bag and store it in my chilly laundry room for weeks. Check out these tips on storing food and this article on modern root cellars.

Learn from the experts

If you’re intimidated, sign up for a service like The Grocery Game that guides you along. I did this when I was starting to really save money. If you haven’t been doing it, you’ll more than make up the membership costs. And once you gain confidence, feel free to cancel your membership if it isn’t convenient for you. This site gets you looking at your grocery receipt, and you’ll never want to turn back.

Don’t buy what you don’t need

Did I say this at the beginning? That’s because it’s really important. If you get a great deal on a pantry full of yogurt-covered chocolate raisin pasta clusters or hair dye, well, that’s $10 you shouldn’t have spent.

On the other hand, if you get really good and can obtain a lot of free tampons that you don’t need because you use a Diva Cup, you can donate those to a women’s shelter and feel great (and perhaps take a tax break).

(This post doesn’t yet touch on warehouse stores, which are their own saving wonderland if you use them well.)

What other ways have you found to cut down the grocery bill?

Wrap-up: Washing bags, hybrid 7-seaters, stockpiling and salad dressing

The Internet has been bursting with economic and environmental news, good and gloomy. Who needs gloom? Not us. Here are some interesting stories to carry you around the Web this week:

Making green preparations for Thanksgiving

We are going to be hosting Thanksgiving this week, and yesterday, we were at ye olde Bed Bath & Beyond again, looking for some tray tables.

Tray tables are exactly the kind of purchase I love to hate … too expensive and not attractive, but I know we will get a lot of use out of them. We have been looking at secondhand stores for probably a year, so we threw in the towel and bought new. I did price compare online, and BBB had the best deal, especially with the 20% off coupon thrown in. (We also bought a Christmas gift, and yes, they allowed us to use multiple coupons!)

The store, of course, was a madhouse yesterday! Per square foot, it was more crowded than Costco, where we also stopped yesterday.

The holidays are coming, and many Americans feel the temptation to buy all new things and decorate so life is beautiful. Our household is in no way exempt from this desire.

But when I looked at napkin rings and saw that many of them cost $5 to $10 each … for inexpensive pieces made in China or India … I thought that we can surely do better. I took a breath, moved away from the beautiful luxuries, and thought about what I can do at home.

First, I took a second look at this article about bringing a green spirit to Thanksgiving. (Full disclosure: The Green Parent published the article from a news release I helped a client write and distribute.) I have been thinking about centerpiece ideas, and I think the idea about using autumn items to craft a centerpiece is a great one. Besides, it will give us something to do during commercials.

When we talked about napkin rings, we realized we are swimming in beads and wire. I’m hoping Little Cheap will sit down and work with us to make some napkin rings to decorate the tables. If you are crafty, you could knit some napkin rings from yarn, or get uber-crafty with wire and beads.

As for napkins, check out discount stores for cloth napkins if you haven’t got any. We received napkins years ago for Christmas, and we’ve updated our stash, each year or two demoting the fanciest to “daily” because we aren’t fanatical about getting out stains. I saw this article, too, where comments mentioned stitching worn-out sheets (the nice parts, obviously) into formal napkins.

For other items — from candle holders to serving dishes to that extra ottoman — check out your local secondhand store first to see if you can recycle something. Sure, you might still have to buy something new, like our tray tables, but at least it’s worth a try to save a few bucks and a tree.

How are you planning to have a greener Thanksgiving?

Nothing better than a thrift-store sale – Veterans Day at Savers

Attention, bargain shoppers … next week is the U.S. Veterans Day holiday, and Savers thrift stores are offering 50 percent off all merchandise on Tuesday, Nov. 11. Click here to locate a Savers near you.

Australian shoppers get 50 percent off Monday, Nov. 10, at Savers.

Those of you in Canada, you can have the same pleasure next week at Value Village (this is NOT the U.S. Value Village, except in some Pacific Northwest locations) or Village des Valeurs. In Canada, the sale is Monday, Nov. 17.

I don’t make it to a Savers too often, but we’ve found some of our most memorable deals for my daughter there — including a big Fisher Price sailing ship that gets a lot of play, for $1.50 on a half-off day. For better-than-yard-sale prices, check it out … and come back and tell us what you got.

Quick tip: Check your receipt for savings

At our local grocery store (King Soopers, part of the Kroger chain), shoppers can be sure they’re getting the best deal — if they pay attention.

Any time you’re shopping, of course, it makes sense to take a look at your receipt to be sure the prices are right.

But at King Soopers, it pays even more.

The store has a policy that if the scanned price is different from the price on the shelf, you get the item free. This has paid off for my family twice in the past — once for a candy bar, once for whipping cream — so the “freebie” status nicely assuaged the “guilty pleasure” aspect of those purchases. I was surprised recently, when I stopped at a Safeway store with a friend whose purchase rang up wrong, that Safeway doesn’t offer the same policy.

In addition, if you have a King Soopers “SooperCard” and the register doesn’t catch the card number (thereby depriving you of your savings), or if you don’t have the card with you, you can bring the SooperCard and your receipt to Customer Service later and they’ll repay the difference. I used this feature this week, when I noticed some sausages I’d purchased (on sale at half price) hadn’t rung up that way because my card hadn’t scanned. In two minutes the service desk clerk gave me back my $3.19.

Does your store offer deals like these? Have you saved big (or little) bucks by keeping an eagle eye out?

What are you wearing NOW?

This week’s post on eco-fashion has generated some fun comments. I loved Erin‘s response (I added the links):

What I am wearing right now…sweater bought on sale at Patagonia – a company I love because of its commitment to the environment. A skirt I bought at Goodwill. A AWESOME shirt I got for my birthday that I have worn approximately 57,000 times since the end of August. ) Organic t-shirt material scarf that was a gift. And Keen shoes – another company I admire [Cheap here: I admire this company too — they made the ONLY pair of shoes I bought for the summer] plus they have a big toe box and I hate when my feet are scrunched. I try to be eco-conscious in my clothing but I think the best thing I could do would be to buy clothes used which I don’t do enough of cause it is hard…

Check out her awesome PC outfit! Wow, she’s so green!

So I thought a survey would be a lot of fun on a Friday (or Saturday, Sunday, Monday, whenever you read this). Quick! Take a look at yourself and post what you are wearing!

No fair changing into your Goodwill outfit just to earn brownie points.

It is acceptable to comment about whether your outfit is typical.

What am I wearing?

To prove my honesty, my outfit today is not so eco at all. I am wearing …

– The sweater from the post linked above.

– A T-shirt bought at J. Jill with a gift card.

– Some jeans from Ann Taylor Loft bought on a friends-and-family coupon my friend sent me before the chain laid off said sister.

– Socks bought at Target (I can knit socks, but until someone buys me a circular sock knitting machine so I can literally crank them out, it hasn’t been happening).

– Rocket Dog sneakers bought a couple of years ago at Famous Footwear … for the coupon benefits.

Is this typical?

Most likely,  yes. I’m choosy about my clothes, but that’s because I’m a Virgo. (What is funny is that that horoscope says “your favorite label is Calvin Klein — which is about right, and I just bought a CK parka … at Ross, of course.) So I do try to thrift shop — and I have some thrift-store clothes — but often I don’t find things I like at thrift stores.

My goals: Choose more basics that are higher quality and longer lasting, even if more expensive. Choose more basics that are organic, recycled and/or recyclable. Make more of my own clothes. And I have on my to-do list to visit some more upscale consignment/resale shops and see if I have better luck than at the thrift store.

But (she said, justifying herself) my daughter’s clothes are largely pre-loved.

Extra credit – What does your family wear?

My daughter is wearing a shirt I made her with some pants from Savers, plus sneakers made partially with recycled materials (from Wal-Mart … Not really our first choice (in fact, she tried on shoes at many other stores first), but just about the only store where the shoes fit her feet!). Later she’ll head out to soccer practice in cleats from the consignment shop.

As for Mr. Cheap … he is wearing his school’s Friday spirit T-shirt, a pair of jeans most likely from Costco, and a jacket probably also from Costco.

Now … What are YOU wearing?