Cheap Tricks

Just another Blount Blogs weblog

Top 3 Tips and Farewell to the Daily Times

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A few months ago, I wrote about my husband’s job being eliminated and our hope that a job offer was in the works. I am pleased to share that the offer did materialize and he has been happily employed since February.

Unfortunately, the job is in Johnson City and we have to move…again.

Among the many decisions that I have had to make since learning our fate, how to proceed with Cheap Tricks has been among the more difficult.

It is hard to believe that I have been writing professionally for over two years. Without a doubt, I would not have had this opportunity without the determination and encouragement of my friend and former Cheap Blondes co-writer, Sarah Herron.

It is an honor to write for the newspaper that has always been a part of my life.

When I was growing up, clippings of articles on my parents’ volunteer work and my school and community involvement were tacked to the bulletin board in the kitchen. When I left home, my parents would send me clippings of graduations, weddings, obituaries, and articles they thought I would be interested in or needed to read.

When I graduated from college and got married, announcements were run. When my first child was born, a picture ran of her first Christmas in a Santa hat. When my mom passed away, a beautiful story was published about her life.

And now, each week, I get to share a bargain shopping tip with others who cherish our local paper as much as I do. How could I leave?

As the weeks have flown by, I have realized that writing this column from another city would be difficult. So, in April, I let the editors know that May would be my last month as a columnist.

All too soon it is the last Wednesday of the month and this is my last column, my last words of advice to you and I am already more than halfway finished without so much as one “cheap trick”.

I will leave you with my top 3 tips for living well on a small budget. Perhaps they will get sent to a college student or tacked to the bulletin board in a kitchen. Whatever you do with them, I hope they help someone else as much as they have helped me.

These tips won’t make you a millionaire, but they are the building blocks for my reality of saving money without sacrificing.

1. Know what you have and what you will need. A bargain
shopper must always be shopping to find incredible discounts because things are very rarely at their lowest price when you need them. The key is to buy seasonal items at the end of their season when you do not need them immediately, but will in 6-12 months. When it comes to non-sustaining items like toiletries, food, household cleaners, etc, never have more than a six months’ supply. The chances are high that you will see the low price again, it will expire before being used, or you will not prefer the product. Unless you know you will need it, do not buy it regardless of the price. If you have to question it, you do not need it.

2. Never pay full price for name or designer brands. If you must have name brands, try to combine a sale price with a coupon. You should be able to buy most grocery items at 30 percent off and clothing, accessories, and house wares at least 50 percent off. If you do not have time to search for sales and/or clip coupons, buy generic or shop discount stores. For groceries, shop Aldi. For clothing, shop TJ Maxx.

3. Shop online. Refer to sites like Slickdeals.net for the best sales and retailmenot.com for online coupon codes. Watch shipping fees, which can kill a good deal.

Despite the fact that my column will end today, I will keep the email address cheaptricks@ymail.com and will continue to answer your couponing and bargain shopping questions as long as you have them. Thank you for being the best audience this hometown girl could have hoped for!

Written by Amy Habart

May 25th, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Take a Field Trip to “The Dump”

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If you are looking for something free to do with your kids this weekend, take them to the landfill. I am completely serious.

The Blount County Landfill, still referred to by everyone I know as “the dump”, is located just off Big Springs Road.

Most people visit the Blount County Landfill to take things too large or numerous for their weekly garbage pick-up or to recycle a variety of items that cannot be thrown away.

It used to be a place where people could find treasures. The term “junking” now refers to people driving by and looking through garbage on the side of the road, but it used to refer to a trip to the dump to sort through things that others had discarded.

I am cheap without a doubt, but digging through trash is where I draw the line. Even if the concept of furnishing your home with things at the dump appealed to you, it is now illegal to leave with items that you did not bring in.

Many schools take field trips to the Landfill as part of their education on recycling and planet conservation. If your child’s school does not participate in this program, consider taking a little family field trip to show them where all of their garbage goes once it leaves the curb.

While you are there, check out the unique feature that is all but unknown by most residents.

In addition to being the final destination for all of Blount County’s garbage, the Landfill is also home to the Blount County Modeler’s Association (BCMA), an association of those who fly model airplanes.

The BCMA is made of up roughly 45 fliers insured by the American Modeler’s Association. They have leased and operated Bert Kissick Memorial Airfield at the landfill since 2000.
Over the years, the organization has made many improvements and now boasts a 45ft by 300ft GeoTextile runway and five 12ft by 25ft taxiways.

To fly at Kissick Airfield, you have to be a member of the BCMA, which is an American Modeler’s Association-sanctioned organization. Membership is not free, but being a spectator is.
Monday through Saturday from 9am until dark and Sundays from noon until dark, the Airfield is open for members to fly and visitors to watch. The most active flying time is Saturday morning.

You will see members who are relatively new to flying and experts who have had the hobby for decades. Some planes are small and some look large enough to accommodate an actual pilot.

If you have ever considered model airplanes as a hobby or think your child may be interested in them, the members of the BCMA are happy to talk with you. For those who do not have the time or interest in participating themselves, the BCMA welcomes anyone to watch.

I recently toured the Landfill and visited the Airfield. To my amazement, I did not smell garbage at all and the view is actually pretty amazing.

As you would imagine, there is not a lot of seating or shade at the Landfill, so be sure to bring a folding chair and sunscreen if you plan to stay for a while.

If you have questions about the BCMA or the Airfield, you can visit their website at www.fly-bcma.com. A wealth of information and pictures are posted as well as email addresses for their officers.

Who knew the “dump” could be so much fun?

Written by Amy Habart

May 25th, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Farmers’ Market begins!

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I celebrated Mother’s Day weekend away from home and the dishes, laundry, and housework that accompany my daily life. Unfortunately, this also means that I missed the opening of the Maryville Farmers’ Market.

We are blessed to have three growing seasons in East Tennessee and that means our Farmers’ Market can not only open in May, but actually have produce to sell.
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You might be surprised by all the Market has available this early in the year. This weekend, you will find onions, lettuce, many types of cabbage including bok choy, spinach, radishes and strawberries. In the next few weeks, potatoes and beans will be added to that list.

As July approaches, the floodgates open and the Market booms with corn, tomatoes, hot and bell peppers, okra, cantaloupes, watermelons, blueberries and apples. August will bring the addition of eggplants and pumpkins.

Despite the fact that most people associate the Farmers’ Market with only fruits and vegetables, there are many other locally grown or produced items available.

Every week, vendors sell cheese, soap, honey, bread, jams and jellies, potted plants, herbs and even fresh-cut flowers.

Vienna Coffee is a new addition this year. They are offering a variety of drinks including a special-blend coffee available only at the Farmers’ Market.

Honestly, I am really only disappointed that I missed the free bike helmets that the police department was distributing.

Many people shop at the Farmers’ Market to support local farmers and/or to get fresher produce than is available at the grocery store. It is nice to know where your food is coming from and meeting the actual farmer when you buy it does bring about a comfort that sorting through a bin at the grocery store does not.

I like to support the local economy and I like to buy fresh, healthy foods. However, I am not willing or able to spend a lot of extra money doing it. If I can get better quality, better tasting fruits and vegetables at the Farmers’ Market for the same or less money, I will shop there. Luckily, the prices are right and the quality is good.

I’m not likely to buy cheese, baked goods or soap and I probably won’t go many times until July when the crops really start producing. We’re not big cabbage or radish eaters and I will not make a special trip to the Farmers’ Market just for onions and strawberries.

July will be a different story entirely. My girls love corn and melons and my husband loves fresh hot peppers. I enjoy the plants and will absolutely take advantage of the Vienna Coffee.

Each week, the Market has live music and there are always surprises like an early crop of potatoes or a late crop of corn that make each week a little different.

I suppose that I’m that dreaded consumer that allows price to dictate my shopping habits more than environmental side-effects, local economic impact or overall quality.

I believe there are many like me that may not speak out loudly with our voices, but do with our pocket books. If you identify, do not avoid the Farmers’ Market because you fear it is overpriced organic food for rich people to buy. The prices are reasonable and the taste is usually better because it is fresh.

And, if you are lucky, you may end up getting something free, which is always the golden ticket for me.

Written by Amy Habart

May 12th, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Mother’s Day and Cinco de Mayo Deals

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As the weather is warming up and the school year is coming to an end, I am anxious for a vacation. We are at least a month away from sleeping in and toes in the sand, but that does not mean we don’t have anything to celebrate.

Most importantly in my house, Mother’s Day is Sunday. This is a surprise to many people who are used to the holiday arriving in the middle of the month. In fact, this is the earliest possible date for the holiday because it always falls on the second Sunday in May and May 1 was on a Sunday this year.

There are only two days that I consider automatic mom vacation days; Mother’s Day and my birthday. On these days, I don’t cook any meal. Of course, that either means that we eat at a restaurant or I spend the next day cleaning up the mess that my well-intentioned family made in the kitchen. I assume you know my preference.

Regardless of the occasion our family always attempts to eat at the restaurant offering the best bargain. This week I have been scouting out Mother’s Day specials.

My search did not go as I had hoped. Not only are very few restaurants offering reduced-price meals or freebies like an appetizer or dessert, most aren’t even running special menu items.

What I found instead were numerous restaurants offering Cinco de Mayo specials on Thursday. Why this Mexican holiday deserves special prices and mother’s don’t is beyond me, but it does work nicely into my desire to celebrate essentially anything in preparation for summer.

A few restaurants (henceforth my favorites) are offering both Cinco de Mayo AND Mother’s Day specials. These businesses know how to earn my patronage.

For Cinco de Mayo tomorrow, Aubrey’s is offering $1 off house margaritas and $2 Coronas in both the restaurant and bar sections. For Mother’s day, they are offering three special entrees: flatiron steak, prime rib, and pork chops along with peanut butter pie as their special dessert.

Courtyard Grille is extending their already fantastic happy hour specials for Cinco de Mayo. All margaritas, house wine, well drinks, and draft beer are 2-for-1 and five appetizers are reduced to only $3.50 each.

Their Mother’s Day special is actually a weekend special, so you can go Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday. The special meal is $12.99 and includes a salad, yummy rolls, chicken tenders or grilled chicken with a side and their ice cream dessert that looks like a baked potato. Considering the entrees themselves are normally $11 and $12 respectively and salads are not typically included, this is a great deal!

Courtyard normally has prime rib only on Fridays and Saturdays, but will be offering it Sunday as well in honor of moms and the dads who are taking them out to celebrate.

As I mentioned, the Cinco de Mayo specials are far more prevalent. Of course, every Mexican restaurant is offering specials. However, if you are not a margarita-lover or you are allergic to salsa, there are a few other options.

In addition to Aubrey’s and Courtyard Grille, TGI Fridays is running their happy hour specials all day tomorrow and Chili’s is offering half-price appetizers.

Even if you have never heard of Cinco de Mayo and you are a bachelor who lives far away from your mother, take advantage of the special holiday pricing this week. It’s only the beginning of May, but it can be the middle of July in your mind.

Written by Amy Habart

May 4th, 2011 at 8:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

National Parks Weeks

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For the first time in years, our family is celebrating Easter at home. It is a welcome change from the road trip to the Habarts’ and the hectic family gatherings that follow.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my in-laws and the girls are crazy about their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. However, when you put all of us together in the same house, it can be a little overwhelming.

Like many families, we try to find things to do outside of the house in order to keep from getting bored and also to avoid breaking anything. We usually go to parks, movies and for walks around the neighborhood.

If yours is one of the thousands of families planning on traveling this weekend, I have a cheap trick for you that will hopefully make the trip more enjoyable.

Coinciding with the Easter holiday is U.S. National Park Week. Part of the celebration is free admission to over 100 parks across the country through April 24. Some parks are even offering free tours and discounted concessions.

While our nearest national park is free, there are several around us that are not.

When national parks charge a fee, it is usually in the $3 to $5 range per person. However, there are others like the Cumberland Island National Seashore in St. Mary’s, Georgia that costs $20 per person because of ferry fees (which are waived for National Park Day).

Most other higher-cost parks are in the western US.

If you happen to be traveling to Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah or Wyoming, you definitely need to check into the parks that are participating in the free admission promotion. Tourists to The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Bryce Canyon are in for a treat as these are some of the most expensive parks in the country.

Until researching for this column, I thought national parks were all scenic tours or topographical anomalies. As I perused the list of participating parks, I discovered our national parks are much more diverse.

Take, for example, the Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado. This park offers ranger or self-guided tours of the park’s 210,000 acres and educates children and adults on the dinosaurs that have been and are continuing to be discovered.

Another surprise is the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. This amazing museum features full-size reproductions of the 1902 glider and 1903 flying machine as well as an engine block from the 1903 Flyer and a replica of the Wright’s first wind tunnel. The park sits on the original site of the Wright’s first flight.

With over 100 parks in 45 states participating, you may very well find one near your destination. For all of the information on this promotion including which parks are offering free admission, go to www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparksbystate.html.

If you miss the chance to go this week, the Parks will be offering free admission again on June 21, Sept. 24, and Nov. 11-13.

We might attempt a visit on one of the other dates. This weekend, there is nothing (even a freebie) that can take me away from home.

Link to Daily Times Column: link

Zulily Blowout Sale

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As you know, I do not post many things aside from my column. However, only this morning, I was kicking myself for missing an opportunity to buy snow pants for my kids on clearance at Lands’ End. I put the items in my cart and thought I had checked out, but apparently didn’t press the “Place Order” button. I added a few things to my cart this morning and found them in my cart…beside a note that says OUT OF STOCK. Sigh.

Anyway, I got an email from Zulily today (like everyday, which can be annoying) advertising their Blow-out Sale. I clicked through and guess what I saw-a pair of snow bibs with a coat for only $18.50! WOOHOO! The shipping was $9, but I added a few more things and the shipping charge didn’t change. Overall a great deal!

There are tons of other things in the sale as well. Lots of cute smocked dresses and outfits for Spring and Summer, bathing suits, bath and beach towels, shoes, home deorations, women and men’s clothing. It’s worth a look if you need practically anything to wear or decorate with. There are also some great gift ideas!

The site is running super-slowly right now, but SO worth it!

Zulily Blowout Sale

Yay for cheaper shipping!

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My kindergartner is doing a project in school that requires her to mail letters to friends and family in other states. As I started preparing the addresses to send to school, I realized that almost everyone we know lives in Tennessee.

Aside from minor inconveniences like this one and the inability to save money on hotel stays, I love living near our family and friends. In addition to shorter car rides, free babysitters, and frequent family get-togethers, we now also have the advantage of cheaper shipping.
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I primarily only ship items like a pair of shoes or phone charger my in-laws accidently leave behind after a visit. Most of the time, if it’s necessary enough to bring with them, it’s something they need back ASAP.

Priority shipping rates for smaller items are higher than I think they ought to be and make me sometimes question whether it would not be easier to just re-buy whatever it is that was left behind. Luckily, the USPS recently announced a new shipping option that erases that concern.

In January the USPS began offering Regional Priority shipping. The fees are based on the distance the package is traveling and your choice of two package sizes.

Like traditional Priority shipping, the boxes are available for free. There are a few differences, though.

The program was intended for use by commercial shippers, so you cannot just walk into the post office and ship via this method. Boxes must be ordered from USPS.com or by calling 1-800-610-8734 and labels must be paid for and printed from that website or through Paypal.

You can either print shipping labels or simply use regular paper and tape it to the box. If you have not done this before, it is very easy. You will also have the option of requesting that a mail carrier pick up the package at your door, which is one of my favorite things about Priority shipping.

Regional Priority boxes are similar to flat-rate Priority boxes in that they are not based on weight. They differ in that the rate is variable by distance and flat-rate boxes have higher weight limits.

To give you an example of the differences in shipping fees, I will use a 6 pound box shipped from Maryville to Gallatin, where my in-laws reside.

To ship this package via regular Priority mail, the cost is $8.91 while a medium size flat-rate box is $10.50. Remarkably, the rate for a comparably-sized Regional Priority box size A is only $5.08 and the larger box size B is $6.88. All three packages should arrive in 2-3 days.

Whether you ship once a week or once a year, I highly suggest checking the Regional Priority rates. I priced the same box shipped to California and discovered for the box I was shipping, the Regional rate was still lower than shipping via regular Priority Mail.

My in-laws are visiting soon, so I am going to order some Regional Priority boxes in anticipation of their arrival. I hope they are not needed, but I am glad to know that if I do have to ship something, it will cost less because they are nearby.

Link to the Daily Times column: link

Keep it simple and avoid bargain burnout!

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Keep online shopping simple and reap the rewards

By Amy French Habart

Readers of my column know that I love Internet shopping. Not only can I get a great deal on virtually anything I need, I can do so while wearing my pajamas.

There is no doubt that I spend a fair amount of time perusing online retail stores. However, the vast majority of my shopping time is spent researching deals, finding coupon codes, and locating sale information on bargain websites.

In the past, most bargain or deal websites were message boards created to allow members the opportunity to share information. Within the last few years, however, user-friendly programs have begun making individual websites more common.

Couple ease-of-use with the hot topics of bargain shopping and couponing and you have innumerable websites or weblogs (known as “blogs”) dedicated to sharing tips on saving money.

Never wanting to miss a sale, I started following many of these websites as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts that offer the same service. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that I knew most of the information already.

As a longtime member of the message board Slickdeals.net, I am part of a community of individuals that shares, well, “slick” deals. Some members work for retailers and share upcoming sale information, but most are just shoppers like me who find a low price or promotion while shopping online.

The blogs and sites that I had hoped would serve as additional resources for deal information ended up being basically a regurgitation of what was posted on message boards. This was particularly annoying when it came to Facebook where I was seeing the same information over and over again, even after the referenced item was sold out.

The one exception to this is local bloggers who include information on local deals. We have several bloggers in the Knoxville/Maryville area who post sale information exclusive to stores in our region.

These bloggers post things that Slickdeals.net and similar websites like Fatwallet.com, Walletpop.com and others do not typically mention. On the other hand, they also post a lot of national deals, so there is a lot of re-posting and most of the local deals posted are sales that you can find advertised right here in the Daily Times.

I am often asked if I have a blog with deals posted or have a list of recommended blogs or websites to follow. While I do have a blog, it primarily serves as an easy access to all of my columns and a place to post additional information that I did not have space to include in print. I simply do not see a need for another blog re-posting specific deals.

In my opinion, you do not need to check a list of 20 websites, Facebook pages, or Twitter accounts every day to find the best deals. I suggest instead that you follow one main site (I prefer Slickdeals.net), one grocery store or couponing site (I recommend Hotcouponworld.com or Southernsavers.com) and read the newspaper.

Online shopping should help you save time. Keep it simple and you can enjoy great prices and the benefits of shopping in your PJs.

Link to the Daily Times column: link

Don’t miss this sale!

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This past weekend was the beginning of my spring cleaning. I thinned out closets, sorted totes of my kids’ clothing, and eradicated unused items that I kept only because I am a borderline pack rat.

By the time I was done, I managed to fill a truck bed … twice.
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In the past, I might have had a garage sale, participated in a consignment sale or sold more valuable items on Craigslist or eBay. However, this year I am choosing to donate.

In addition to simply not having the time to go the selling route, I was searching for items to donate to the Junior Service League of Maryville’s “Bloomingdeals” Spring Sale that will be held on Saturday.

I have donated a lot of items over the years to charities. In fact, I have suggested more than once in my column to donate, document, and then reap the reward of your tax write-off. Rarely, however, do I focus on the actual charity that the items are going to.

If I’m being truthful, the organization is usually not a huge concern of mine. I am typically motivated to purge items and then decide where they will go.

This time, however, the motivating factor for my weekend of cleaning was the beneficiary.

In the event that you are not aware, Junior Service League of Maryville is the organization that funds and facilitates Toys for Blount County. Each year, they raise funds through events like their Santa Breakfast to purchase toys for about 1,400 under-privileged children at Christmas time.

Since becoming a member of Junior Service League last year, I have had the honor of participating in their toy drives and fundraisers and am confident that all the money raised goes directly to a worthwhile cause. Like many readers with small budgets, cash donations are more difficult for me to come by than material ones, so this is a way that I can help the organization that doesn’t cost anything.

I am also planning to shop at the sale. Buying items from a charity is doing more good than buying them from a store and they are almost always cheaper.

From what I have heard, there will be a plethora of items at the sale ranging from patio furniture to clothing and everything in between. Several volunteers have reported amazing brand-new items that have been donated.

I love garage sales, but sales like Bloomingdeals are my favorites. Not only is the organization making 100 percent of the profits, people who would not normally bother with consignment or garage sales will donate items simply to support the organization.

Sales like these will often have a larger percentage of name brand, expensive, and new items than a traditional garage sale. Even I donated my higher-end brand name items this time instead of selling them.

If you love bargains, I expect you will be able to find something at Bloomingdeals. It may end up being Maryville’s largest charity sale of the year and perhaps eventually allow this great program help more children in our county.

Bloomingdeals will take place at 116 Chantilly Lane off Highway 321 this Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The sale is cash only. See you there!

Link to the Daily Times online column: link

Follow-up to the Walmart coupon policy!

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Here is this week’s Daily Times column regarding “money-makers” and Walmart’s new coupon policy:

I love to hear from readers. Whether in person or via email, your feedback is important to me.

Mostly, I hear stories about great finds, appreciation when you learn something new, or questions about couponing or bargain shopping in general. Often you make me smile and sometimes, like last week, you make me laugh out loud at my computer screen.

On Thursday I received an email from a reader named Barbara. She read last week’s column and was puzzled by the new Wal-Mart couponing policy.

After years of couponing, Barbara has never seen a coupon that is worth more than the item and was not quite sure what Wal-Mart was trying to accomplish by changing its policy. In her exact words, she felt like Wal-Mart was “prepared to give us the sleeves out of their vest”.

It took me a while to get it because I’m blonde and slow (vests don’t have sleeves…), but once I caught up with Barbara’s wit, I chuckled for a long time. Wal-Mart’s new coupon policy certainly could seem like a gift of nothing.

Honestly, I wondered what the big deal was, myself when I first read the policy change. I, too, had trouble recollecting coupons that exceeded the value of the item. Then I remembered trial sizes.

I usually associate high-value coupons with freebies instead of money-makers. Since it is not the policy of most stores to give cash back for overages, money-makers are typically found in Walgreen’s or CVS when an item has a Register Reward or Extra Buck promotion and there is also a coupon available. In that situation, the item is not really a money-maker until you use the reward coupon on your next purchase, but it is possible if done correctly.

When it comes to trial or travel sizes, however, the ability to make money buying an item at Wal-Mart is a real possibility.

Take for example the $3-off coupon for Purex 3-in-1 Laundry Sheets found in the Feb 20 Red Plum coupon insert. The full size box of these sheets is well above $3. However, there is a travel size available at most Wal-Mart stores for less than $1.

Since the coupon does not exclude trial or travel sizes (sometimes coupons will list minimum package sizes), you can use this coupon on the $1 package. When you use the $3 coupon at Wal-Mart, you will get the item plus $2 back in cash.

Money-makers are not just limited to miniature packages, though. Take the Goodlife Recipe coupon that can be printed at Redplum.com.

The coupon is for $1.50-off any size Goodlife Recipe cat food. The picture on the coupon is of a bag of dry food, but it can be used on the ANY Goodlife food product and, therefore, applies to the cans of wet food that cost 80 cents or less.

While not as common as the trial/travel size opportunities, coupons for more than the price of a full-size item can be found several times per year. Many coupon blogs make an effort to point these out when they are available as most die-hard couponers will buy anything that is free either to donate to charity, give to a friend or keep for a rainy day.

I am a firm believer that for every one person who speaks up, there are at least ten that do not. So, for Barbara and the other ten or more of you that thought Wal-Mart was giving you sleeves from a vest without them, I hope that you can find some opportunities to make Wal-Mart prove you wrong.

Written by Amy Habart

March 16th, 2011 at 10:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized