Smart Buying

6 Costly Mistakes Shoppers Make at Target

Make sure you're not missing opportunities to save with clearance sales, the Cartwheel app and more.

Despite lagging sales, mounting job cuts and a disastrous expansion into Canada, Target still has its fans. Not only does the big-box retailer sell everyday items, but also it offers a tempting array of cheap-chic clothing, furniture, home décor and more. I’ve heard plenty of Target shoppers comment that they’ve gone in to buy, say, paper towels and end up spending over $100.

Yes, it’s easy to overspend at Target. That’s why it’s important to assess how you shop at this store. If you’re guilty of these six costly mistakes, you’re certainly spending too much and missing some great opportunities to save big.

Shopping without a list. This is how many of us get into trouble and blow the budget. “Those Target [merchandise] buyers are so good. They know how to stock the store with items that are easy for us to fall in love with,” says Christy Palmer, founder of the All Things Target blog. “If you don't use a list, before you know it, your cart is filled with items you didn't plan on buying like a cute shirt for your daughter, new kitchen towels and the latest shade of fingernail polish.”

Paying full price for staples. You’ll spend much more than you have to if you only buy everyday items once you’ve gone through your supply at home because, chances are, they won’t be on sale at the moment you need them. If you pay attention to Target sales and match coupons up with those sale prices, you can buy items when they are at their lowest prices instead, Palmer says. Target posts its weekly ad on Target.com, and Palmer shows on her blog what coupons are available that can be used to get the price of sale items even lower.

Skipping the clearance racks. Don't assume the clearance racks are filled with items people don't want, Palmer says. She recommends checking the end caps of aisles where clearance items are placed (and marked with a red sticker) before heading to the regular location of items on your list. You might find something similar to what you need at a discount of 15% to 70%. For example, Palmer says that on a recent Target shopping trip, she found a hair dryer that was marked down 10% in the beauty supply aisle but found another one at the clearance end cap of the aisle that was marked down 70%.

Avoiding coupons. Palmer recommends spending a few minutes before a trip to Target browsing the retailer’s printable store coupons, which can be combined with manufacturer coupon for even bigger savings. Or you can sign up to have coupons texted to your mobile device by visiting the Target Web site and registering for alerts.

Ignoring the Cartwheel app. You can download Target’s free Cartwheel app on your mobile device to score savings of 5% to 50% on items throughout the store. You can browse offers by category or search by keyword. Add offers to your Cartwheel list, then scan the barcodes of items as you add them to your physical shopping cart at Target. When you check out, simply show your Cartwheel barcode to the cashier to have savings applied to your purchase. Cartwheel savings can also be combined with coupons, sales and REDcard discounts (more on REDcard below).

Saying no to the REDcard. The Target REDcard comes in both a debit and credit version and gives users an automatic 5% discount on most purchases (gift cards, prescriptions, clinic services and eye exams excluded). There is no annual fee for the credit card, but it has a whopping 22.9% annual percentage rate. So the debit card, which links directly to your bank account, is probably the better option. “This is such an easy way to save, it's crazy not to do it,” Palmer says. Plus, paying with the Target REDcard gives you free shipping on any Target.com orders and allows you to donate 1% of your purchase to an eligible elementary, middle or high school.

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