Since today is Black Friday, I wanted to write a quick post about a few things to consider when buying a “bargain.” I follow dozens of deal and couponing blogs and see the same messages put out there over and over, and feel as though people can sometimes be mislead into thinking they have a good deal. So, here are a few things to watch out for, or simply be aware of when shopping for a deal.

1. The product is “FREE” : More than once today, I came across a post where the blogge was telling their readers about an item they could get for “free.” Being a girl that loves a bargain and that doesn’t have a lot (or any) money to spend on Christmas this year, I was intrigued. However, upon further investigation I found that in ALL of the cases, you were still paying for shipping. To me, this is not getting an item for free. One post today was advertising that you could get an adorable pair of Sorrel boots for free. However,  you had to pay $9.95 for shipping. If you were truly looking for these boots and were going to buy them anyways, this may still be a good deal for you. On the other hand, if you are just a bargainer like me, and simply are always on the lookout for free or very nearly free items, this is not a good deal for you. So, simply read the fine print, investigate the shipping costs, and check to see if your free item is really and truly “free.”

2. Walgreens Rewards : I have a few friends and deal bloggers who swear by this. If you are dedicated and know how to work the system, are willing to make multiple transactions, and save every single coupon insert you get, this may work for you. Here are a few things to consider.

– How much time are you spending driving from Walgreens to Walgreens to get the deals? How much money does this cost you in gas? Are your children enjoying going from store to store with you?

– Many of the blogs out there that promote the “Walgreens Rewards” (google it if you haven’t heard of it), talk about “money-makers” or will tell you that your cost is a certain amount. Here is what it doesn’t come right out and say….Let’s say I buy a bottle of aspirin that costs $7. I use a coupon from several months ago that saves me $1.50. This would make my out of pocket cost $5.50. However, Walgreens offers “rewards” each week on a handful of products (typically hygeine type products). I might get a $2 register reward from Walgreens (a little coupon that allows you to spend $2 the next time you shop at Walgreens….most serious Walgreens dealers use these on their next transaction…) The blog will then tell you that the price of the item is $3.50. However, you still paid $5.50 out of your pocket…To me, THAT is the price of the item. Again, just another something to consider if this is an avenue of bargaining you want to get into.

– With Walgreens, you often need to buy multiples and buy all of their rewards items to get the cheap prices and the register rewards they are offering (so you can use the rewards on the next transaction). Consider, do you NEED each of the items? If they are offering the deals on men’s shavers, shampoo, tampons, and vaseline, and you only really need the shampoo, in my opinion, you’re not really saving money..Buying something just because it is cheap is NOT saving money.

3. Outlet stores and bulk stores : Do your homework and research prices. So often, people will go into a store like Costco or Grocery Outlet and think that because the item is there, it is cheaper than at a regular store. THIS IS NOT TRUE. While both of these types of stores offer great deals on certain items, many of their items are priced higher than at a regular grocery store. Be willing to do the math. Take along a calculator if you need to (especially if you’re at Costco) and figure out if the case of 5 peanut butters is actually cheaper than if you bought them individually at WinCo. (It usually isn’t.) Study grocery ads and simply become aware of what a good price is on certain things. When I first got married and had to grocery shop for the first time, I spent some time with my mom, and simply asked what good prices were for the items I bought the most. If you don’t know how to spot a bargain from an overpriced item, spend some time with a frequent shopper or bargain hunter, and have them tell you what reasonable prices are.

Be smart, read the fine print, and try to buy only what you truly need. True, it is great to stock up your gift closet throughout the year (and is my saving grace this year during a rough financial time),  but only buy items you can actually foresee yourself giving to someone. Have fun, keep your eye out, and find the TRUE bargains that are out there! Happy Black Friday!