NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 4, 2013

Cha-ching: Love a bargain? Buy next year's gifts now

By Kristen Jordan Shamus
Detroit Free Press

---- — She calls herself the 75- to 90 percent-off Girl. Others do, too.

Vera Howell doesn’t love to shop, but she loves to save money. It’s the thrill of getting a deep discount that drives her to the stores.

She buys almost all of her gifts for the following Christmas — and enough for birthdays and other events through the year — in January, when retailers deeply discount their merchandise. She also watches sales in March for winter items, and discounted summer items in August.

“I got earrings that were $60 for half price, then I had a coupon and then I got another percentage off, and when it was all said and done, I got them for $4,” says Howell, 72, of Detroit.

That’s not all. In addition to buying when items go on clearance, she also is smart about leveraging coupons and watching for stores that are going out of business, and tries to be patient, waiting until items are marked down as far as they can go before they sell out.

“I have to determine if it’ll still be there after the New Year,” she says. “Jan. 2 is when things really go on sale.”

Right now, she notes, Fashion Bug is liquidating.

“So everything is 60 percent-70 percent off,” Howell says. “I buy all this stuff up, and then for birthdays, or if I’m having a party, I give them as door prizes and things like that.”

She leaves the price tags on it all, so friends and family can see how much she saved. “They just want something from the 75- to 90 percent-off Girl,” she says, laughing.

Sherry Holbrook wanted to change her lifestyle, but to make it work, she knew she’d have to change her spending habits, too. The 38-year-old mother of three was working full time as a controls engineer for an auto supplier, and with a husband who often works out of town, Holbrook was having trouble managing it all.

She told her boss she was quitting, but was offered a chance to work part time from home, an offer she couldn’t refuse.

“Financially, we’re much better off,” said Holbrook of Commerce Township, Mich. “Between gas, day care, the work clothes and eating out, you add that up, and it costs you more to work,” she said.

But the savings really piled up when Holbrook made some other changes. She stopped buying things new.

“We just used to go to Kohl’s when they had a sale, and we’d blow 500 bucks for clothes,” she said. “Everything was always brand new, and we were in that mentality.

“When I decided I was going to quit, and I started asking people who stayed home, ‘How do you make it?’ I was just like, ‘Wow, we can do this.’ We stopped charging everything. We talked with the kids, and we started making choices.”

She now buys clothes at resale shops, where some send coupons to further reduce already low prices.

“My kids are finally getting it — you don’t have to have it just because everyone else has it,” she says. “Nobody has to know you didn’t go to the store and buy it new. They’re wearing nicer clothes now than they were before. I wouldn’t take them shopping at Justice or Abercrombie, but they can get those brands now.”

For lessons and classes for the kids, Holbrook turns to Living Social and Groupon.

“They’ll e-mail you all kinds of offers. You buy a voucher, and it’s good for a certain amount of time.” Her daughter is taking horseback-riding lessons, she says, “for less than half of what they normally charge.”

Game Stop’s used and refurbished electronics are a good buy, too, she says.

“I do not buy my kids new games and stuff like that,” she says. “A new (Nintendo) DS is $160-$170. I bought them refurbished last year for Christmas for $70 — and they came with a one-year warrantee. The cartridges are $5 apiece.”

In addition, Holbrook watches the sales flyers for good deals on groceries, clips coupons and does a whole lot of meal planning.

“We’re doing better right now than we ever have,” she says. So well, the family is paying cash for a spring trip to Disney World.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do that even a year ago,” she says.

Melissa Buckles of Troy, Mich., has made a career out of saving money. The 42-year-old mother of two was working as a human resources manager for General Motors until her second daughter was born.

“I took a leave of absence and never went back,” says Buckles, who now runs the website www.BargainShopperMom.com. “We took a cut of about half of our income when I decided to stay home. … It was a big adjustment, and I needed to figure out ways to save money wherever I could.”

She started out by paying close attention to grocery store sales flyers and coupons, and quickly realized that she could cut her shopping bills in half by buying things only when they’re on sale. She stocks up at the low price, and it lasts until the items she needs go on sale again. Now, she says she pays about $75 a week at the grocery store to feed her family of four.

“All of my friends were saying, ‘How did you do that? How did you find a coupon for that?’ … I felt that I had a unique voice, and I’d be able to help people and make a little bit of money and stay home at the same time. The website kind of just grew out of that.”

She gets revenue from advertising on her site and makes a few cents every time someone prints a coupon. Buckles also teaches classes on saving money.

“The first thing you need to do is plan your meals,” says Buckles. “That’s No. 1. Look at the flyers this week. You should plan your meals around the loss leaders. Loss leaders are what the grocery store (uses) to entice you to come to the store. They’re possibly losing money on these. This is what pulls you into the store.

“Make a list, and stick with the things that are on sale. You also want to stockpile appropriately. If you know you make meals with chicken like say three times a week, you want to buy enough for a month because you know it’ll go on sale again by then.”

HOW TO FIND DEALS

Melissa Buckles, a Troy, Mich., mother of two, runs the website BargainShopperMom.com.

Buckles has this advice for people trying to shave expenses:

GROCERY SAVINGS

Get the Sunday newspaper and look carefully at what’s on sale at the stores you use. Clip coupons for the things you regularly buy, and look especially for sale items (called loss leaders) that also have coupons for double savings.

Plan your meals for the week based on what’s on sale, especially for things like meat and produce.

Look in your pantry for what you already have, and make a list of the things you’ll need for the week.

At the store, stock up so you’ll have a month’s worth of items you use all the time, buying at the sale price rather than full price.

Add coupons to stretch your dollars even more.

Figure out the unit price to make sure what you’re buying really is a good deal. Bigger isn’t always cheaper.

ONLINE STEALS

You also should wait for sales on your favorite websites to get the better deals. If you sign up for e-mail alerts, you’ll know when sales are happening.

Buy off-season to get the best prices.

Never buy anything online without a coupon code. Buckles’ website has a searchable database to help you search for online coupons for the things you buy.

PRICE MATCHING

Rather than stopping at three different stores for three sales items you can take your flyers from all the stores to the service desk at Target, and get the sale price for all the items at one store.