smart shopping tips

Fast-track your supermarket visits with these tips and tricks

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In-Store innovations

Supermarkets know you hate grocery shopping–so they’re speeding things up with new gadgets and services.

The handheld scanners at ALBERTSONS let you skip the checkout line entirely. Now available in its Dallas-area stores, and nationwide in the next 18 months, the scanners let you scan and bag as you select items. Then just swipe your credit card through the scanner to pay.

STOP & SHOP’s carts with scanner and touch-screen computer combos are like personal grocery assistants. E-mail your list to the store, then swipe your Stop & Shop card through the cart’s computer to call up your list. Scan and bag items as you go (the computer alerts you to sales), and check out by swiping your credit card through the scanner-computer. Three stores in Massachusetts have this technology; 150 more nationwide will offer it by the end of 2005.

WEGMANS has “helping hands” in all of its stores–employees on call to help with everything from pushing your cart if you can’t (screaming baby, broken leg, etc.) to loading groceries into your trunk , while you load your kids into the car.

Three PIGGLY WIGGLY stores in South Carolina have installed fingerprint scanners to speed up the checkout process (this technology will arrive in all 120 of the Southern supermarkets this year). Your fingerprint and credit card or ATM information are stored together on a secure server; after scanning and bagging items at the checkout, you can pay your total with just one touch.

Expert shopping tips

With a little organizing advice from Teri Gault, CEO and founder of The Grocery Game (grocerygame.com), you can cruise the aisles in record time (and save a few bucks, too!).

* Know your store layout. If you don’t already have the aisles memorized, ask for a map (some stores offer them or you can make your own). Shopping is a lot quicker when you know exactly where you’re going.

* Organize your list. Arrange your list by aisle. Grouping like items together will mean less doubling back for things you forgot. Put a “C” next to items with coupons.

* File your coupons in aisle order. Use a coupon file from an office-supply store and keep the front pocket empty for the clippings you’ll use that day.

* Shop for heavy items first. Cruise the inside aisles for heavy items like dog food before you hit the perimeter, where fragile things like eggs and bread are kept. Skip aisles that don’t have anything on your list–just passing through them will tempt you to buy the high-priced, unhealthy processed foods that lurk there.

* Bag items the way you’ll organize them at home. Putting groceries away is much quicker when your frozen-food, produce, and pantry items are each in their own bag.

Holiday shopping smarts: tips, tricks, and very clever tactics

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1 REGIFT

If you’ve received presents you can’t use (or, let’s be honest, just don’t like), put them back in circulation. Sixty-eight percent of women surveyed by Money Management International, a consumer-counseling organization, in 2007 had regifted or planned to, so ditch any pangs of guilt and throw a regifting party with friends. Each guest contributes, say, two or three new but utterly unwanted items (maybe an unopened DVD, bath gel, or a trendy scarf) and gets to choose the same number of castaways from friends. Best-case scenario: You score gifts just right for people on your list–think teacher, sister-in-law, or teenage babysitter. It’s a win-win: “I once received a candle set that I just never used, so I brought it to the party,” says Tanisha Warner, a mum from Houston. “The person who got it was thrilled.”

2 SWAP LOOSE CHANGE FOR A GIFT CARD

Turn those coins piling up in jars around the house into a gift card or eCertificate (starting at $5) that can be used at a favorite store or merchant. Wrap it up for giving, or use it for your holiday shopping. All you need to do is go to coinstar.com to locate one of 16,000 Coinstar machines at a store near you, and load in your loose change. When you exchange it for a gift card or eCertificate, you don’t pay any fees. Choose gift cards from–among others–iTunes, Starbucks, Old Navy, and Borders, and eCertificates for amazon.com, JCPenney, and more.

3 SNAG GIFT CARDS AT A DISCOUNT

At https://www.cardcash.com/, you can nab secondhand gift cards (brand-new or partially used) at low prices, and then either give them to someone or use them yourself to shop away. “Many people have gift cards that they don’t want or will never use, so having cash is the better alternative, especially in this economy,” says the site’s Marc Gendron. Inventory is updated throughout the day, with 1,400-plus merchants represented. For buyers, deals are sweet–up to 40 percent off face value. We’ve seen a $1,000 Tiffany & Co. card going for $750. The site guarantees all cards listed–value is vetted, and the expiration date of and conditions for each card are clearly posted–so you don’t have to worry about getting fleeced. And if you have a card with a minimum balance of $25 that you want to sell, the site will pay you up to 85 percent of the face value.

4 WRAP IN GOOD COMPANY

You want an array of beautiful packages under the tree, but trimmings can get expensive. Instead of resigning yourself to one jumbo roll of red paper, throw a wrapping party. Each guest spends a little but ends up with a lot of cheerily wrapped packages. Janice Benoit of Lisle, IL, a mom of three, has held one of these parties for years with pals. The how-tos: Ask each guest to bring a couple of rolls of paper, some ribbon, and other supplies–plus several gifts in need of wrapping. Set up stations with wrapping paper, scissors, tape, ribbon, tags, and pens; everyone rotates, taking breaks to savor no-fuss treats like cheese and fruit.

5 OFFER A TOAST

A nice wine goes a long way toward holiday cheer, but you don’t have to break the bank buying it. Every December, GHRI’s Carolyn Forte buys a case (12 bottles) of Italian reds so she can get a case discount of 20 percent at her New Jersey store. “I like Italian reds because they’re often a good value, have pretty labels, and go with everything from pizza to pasta to steak,” says the home-care expert. She chooses wines that cost about $10–with the case discount, that’s a quick and simple gift for about $8 a pop, perfect for everyone from neighbors to the mail carrier. Also try wine.com, which sometimes offers one-cent shipping on any 12 bottles sent to one address. (Check the site for your state’s shipping regulations.) Affordable wine picks to consider, from GH Food Director Susan Westmoreland: red Antinori Santa Cristina Sangiovese 2008, from Tuscany, $11; Spanish white Marques de Caceres Rioja Blaneo 2008, $8; and sparkling white Spanish Cristalino Brut Cava, $8.

6 SHIP FOR FREE

Of course you want your e-shopping delivered for free, and in this year’s softer economy, you are more likely than ever to get it. One smart strategy: Log onto paypal.com for a range of shipping deals and discounts if you pay via PayPal service at many big sites. Some e-stores, like beauty.com, offer free shipping on most items (if new customers spend $25; returning customers, $49). When buying gift cards online, seek out sites that send them at no charge, such as Lands’ End, QVC, and Nordstrom.

7 CHECK OUT SOLID-GOLD SITES

Quality matters, and so does a solid reputation, especially when times are tough, so check out these A-list retailers who are wooing your business: L.L.Bean (llbean.com) will offer a $10 gift eard (good through February 16, 2010) with a purchase of $25 or more. Well-heeled Brooks Brothers (brooksbrothers.com) will take $10 off your first purchase of $50 just for registering at their site. And at apple.com, you get two free lines of engraving on the iPod Nano, Touch, or Shuffle–for example, “You Make My Heart Sing,” when you treat your guy.