Category Archives: Saving money

Where to get the best price on Starbucks coffee

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I thought the best price on Starbucks coffee would be at Starbucks. As it turns out, I was wrong.

Starbucks store
I recently compared prices on Starbucks bagged coffee to give as a gift. I started at the Starbucks online store, where I found  a one-pound bag of Starbucks French Roast priced at $11.95. That’s 75 cents an ounce, whether you buy ground or whole bean.

Amazon.com
Out of curiosity, I searched other online sites. Amazon offers Starbucks coffee in more than one size, as well as single- and multi-bag packaging. Some of the prices here were an improvement. For example, three 12-ounce bags of  whole bean French roast sold for $24.94 (with shipping), which equals 69 cents an ounce — that’s less than the Starbucks store. However, a one-pound bag of ground French roast sold for $14.27, or 89 cents an ounce —not a better deal.

Walmart.com
A Google search led me to Walmart.com, where I found some of the best regular (nonsale) prices on Starbucks coffee. For example, you can get a 20-ounce bag of Starbucks French roast for $11.98, which equals 60 cents an ounce (15 cents per ounce cheaper than the Starbucks store). The whole bean version was slightly higher at 64 cents an ounce ($7.68 for a 12-ounce bag).

Here are some more Walmart.com vs. Starbucks store price comparisons, per ounce:

  • Starbucks Breakfast Blend: 75 cents at Starbucks; 60 cents at Walmart for ground, 64 cents for whole bean
  • Starbucks Veranda Blend: 75 cents at Starbucks; 65 cents at Walmart for ground, 64 cents for whole bean
  • Starbucks Caffe Verona Blend: 81 cents at Starbucks; 65 cents at Walmart, 64 cents for whole bean

Online drugstores
At the time this article was written, the Walgreens website had a sale price on a 12-ounce bag of Starbucks French Roast of $6.99, or 58 cents an ounce — that’s the second-lowest price per ounce I found. The retailer offered other Starbucks ground coffee blends as well, but some were at a higher price. Competitor CVS had the same French roast coffee listed for $10.49.

Sam’s Club and grocery store
The best deal came from Sam’s Club, where a two-pound bag of Starbucks House Blend in the whole bean formulation is just $14.98, or 47 cents an ounce. Of course, you’ll have to have a Sam’s Club membership to access this deal. Sam’s Club offers a variety of other Starbucks products as well.

At my local Kroger grocery store, a 12-ounce bag of Starbucks coffee was $7.85.  That’s 65 cents an ounce.

Summary
So, the next time you want a bag or two of Starbucks coffee, shop around. You may find the best price is at a warehouse club, drugstore, grocery store or discount retailer. At the time of my comparison, Walmart offered free shipping on orders of $35 or more, while Starbucks had no free shipping offer listed. Free shipping from Walgreens was available on orders of $25 or more.

Note: All Starbucks products names listed in this article are registered trademarks.

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Amazon changes the rules for free shipping

I shop at Amazon frequently to take advantage of its competitive prices (on most items) and its low threshold for free shipping. My latest shopping trip led to an unwelcome surprise. Amazon has raised the dollar amount of the minimum order you must place to get free shipping.

Look for the "FREE shipping on orders over $35" words near the top of Amazon listings.

Look for the “FREE shipping on orders over $35” words near the top of Amazon listings.

The company used to offer “free super saver shipping” on orders of $25 or more. Now, you must spend at least $35 to get your items shipped to you at no charge. In a Web announcement, Amazon says this is the first time in more than 10 years that it has changed the minimum order amount for free shipping. The announcement includes a sales pitch for Amazon Prime, which allows you to get “free” two-day shipping on orders of any size, if you pay a $79 annual subscription fee. Not exactly what I would call free shipping.

To find items that are eligible for free shipping, look for the words “FREE shipping on orders over $35” on the search results page or the product page (see photo above for example).

Keep in mind some items that are sold on Amazon but shipped by other retailers offer free shipping on orders less than $35.

If you don’t shop at Amazon frequently, you may have missed another trend in its free-shipping policy: the add-on item. Items labeled as add-ons are eligible for free shipping, but only after you already have $35 of merchandise in your cart. Amazon’s current explanation of add-on items is a bit confusing, but it appears you can add the items to a $25 order as well, but they may not be eligible for free shipping at that threshold. Examples include this Rubbermaid plastic magazine file. You can identify add-on items by the blue “Add-on Item” band near the “Add to cart” button or the explanation in the product description (see photo below for examples).

Look for the blue labels to identify Amazon add-on items.

Look for the blue labels to identify Amazon add-on items.

Sometimes, you may be a few cents away from free shipping and need a cheap item to finish off your order. If this is the case, check out my previous post on a neat tool that can help you find such items.

What do you think of Amazon’s new shipping threshold? Will it change how often you purchase items from this retailer?

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Made in the USA: Headbands for running and fitness from 4 manufacturers

Finding running gear made in the USA is tough. In a previous post, I discussed the handful of running shoes I could find that are made in America. While searching for a good headband for running, I was pleased to discover this week that my favorite product line is made in the USA!

I first tried a Bondi Band headband after purchasing one at a pre-race runners’ expo. The headband stays put and has a comfortable backing that wicks sweat away from my skin. It is also wide, giving you more forehead and hair coverage than some of the very narrow headbands sold by major sporting goods stores. The band comes in a couple of different styles and numerous colors and prints. A group that have sayings on them  offer humorous options. Not a runner? The Bondi Band could be used for aerobics, yoga and other workouts as well.

I investigated headbands made by other companies, but many were more expensive than the Bondi Band. I found a promo code on RetailMeNot that allowed me to get five Bondi Band headbands for $25 — a discount of $3 each. Another wide headband I seriously considered was $18 for one. Plus, BondiBand says 10 percent of its pre-tax profits go to charity.

While I have not tried them, I found three other headband lines made in the USA. First is the Halo headband. The manufacturer says the Halo wicks sweat and absorbs moisture. It comes in three different styles: a pullover headband, a version that ties in the back and a Velcro headband. If you’ve tried a Halo headband, please share your comments on how well it works. RetailMeNot also offers a Halo promo code. The bands cost $12.95 to $14.95.

A line of headbands made for women are also manufactured in America — RazzyRoo headbands have a unique design in the back and come in a wide array of prints and colors. The manufacturer’s website doesn’t offer many details on the features of these, so its hard to tell if the group labeled “running headbands” have wicking or sweat-absorbing properties. Expect to spend $5 (clearance items) to $15 for one of these.

Chica Bands offer another headband option for women. In a response to my email, a company representative told me these are made in America. The Chica Bands website describes the product as “a nonslip, nonbinding hair band…for active women and girls.” They come in solid colors, reflective finishes and a variety of other designs. Check out RetailMeNot for Chica Band coupon codes. These headbands range in price from $10 (sale selections) to $17.50. A “Chica on the cheap” option in the sales section allows you to get 10 discontinued bands for $25, but you won’t know the width or style until they arrive.

I would love to hear from ladies who have tried RazzyRoo headbands or Chica Bands for athletic use and get their comments on how well the bands work at keeping sweat off your forehead.

If  you’ve found other running or fitness headbands that are made in America, please let me know so I can expand my list.

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Quadruple fuel points at Kroger through June 22

Now’s the time to stock up on gift cards for summer birthdays, Father’s Day and yourself. Through June 22, Kroger is offering quadruple fuel points on gift card purchases when you use your Kroger Plus card.

Your total points earned will be four times the card’s value. So, a $25 gift card earns you 100 fuel points, and those 100 points entitle you to 10 cents off each gallon of gas you purchase in a single fill-up at a Kroger fuel center. A $100 gift card would net you a 40-cent fuel discount.

There are some important exclusions to keep in mind. You’ll find details in this previous post, along with the reason I stock up on gift cards for myself during these types of promotions.

Available cards at my local Kroger store include Target, Home Depot, Barnes & Noble, Subway, Best Buy, Petsmart and many more. Check out the full list online.

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What to do when you forget your Kroger Plus card

Readers who shop at Kroger no doubt know the value of having a “Kroger Plus” card. It entitles you to discounts on food and merchandise throughout Kroger grocery stores, and it also allows you to earn points you can use for discounts at Kroger fuel centers. Especially valuable are the double fuel points every day on gift cards — read my previous post for details on how to get the most out of this offering.

With all these advantages, you can imagine how bummed I was to get to the checkout line recently and realize I did not have my Kroger Plus card with me. If you forget your Kroger Plus card, you have two options:

1. Use the credit card keypad to enter the telephone number associated with your card — this will allow your card to be applied to your purchase

2. Pay the nondiscounted price for the items and return later with your card and your receipt

I chose the second option because I could not seem to recall which of the many phone numbers I’ve had was linked to my card. I presented my card and receipt at the customer service desk the following day and explained the situation. The clerk promptly refunded the $34.82 I would have saved with my card. I asked if this meant the fuel points linked to the purchase were now on my card, too, but the clerk said that required a separate procedure. He offered to call the Kroger Plus customer service center and take care of this for me, but you can also do this yourself if you are in a rush or the clerk is too busy to help. Be sure to point out any gift card purchases that were part of your transaction so the points are calculated properly.

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Enjoy easier shopping with free shipping and free returns

I buy a lot of items online. Why?

  • The selection is better.
  • Prices are often lower.
  • You can earn extra rewards on your purchases through Ebates.
  • You save money on gas.
  • You avoid the hassle of locating items and waiting in line at a local retail store.

Free shipping makes online shopping even more appealing, but you can still incur costs when you have to return items. Now, however, more companies are offering free shipping and free returns, especially on shoes and clothing. This makes online shopping an even better option. You can try on items and return what doesn’t fit. With that in mind, here are some of the online retailers you may want to consider for your next purchase:

NordstromThis department store offers free shipping all the time — no need to spend a minimum amount or wait for a special promotion. I recently ordered three dresses from them and returned two. The process went smoothly, and I received a prompt refund. The only bummer was that Nordstrom uses the post office for return shipping, which is not especially convenient for me. Be sure to get a receipt with a tracking number for your return from the post office.

ShoebuyThere’s no minimum purchase here, either. Free shipping gets your item delivered in 3 to 10 business days. You can pay for quicker shipping if needed. Shoebuy uses UPS for returns. Shoebuy’s return processing is a bit slower than other stores I’ve purchased from but still gets completed in a reasonable time frame.

Zappos Known for its excellent customer service, Zappos offers a generous 365-day return policy for unused items. It sells shoes, clothing, cookware, makeup, luggage and more. Free return shipping is via UPS or the postal service. My returns have always been credited promptly.

Amazon — Amazon offers free shipping and returns on select items, including clothing, shoes, luggage, jewelry, watches, accessories and sunglasses.  Look for the words “FREE Super Saver Shipping & Free Returns” next to an item’s description to determine if it qualifies. You’ll have to spend $25 to get free shipping.

Clarks — I have not ordered from this company, but it does offer free shipping both ways via UPS. You don’t need to place a minimum order. Clarks sells shoes and accessories.

Apple Store — I was surprised to find this electronics retailer offers free returns. You must initiate the return process within 14 days of receiving your item. To get free shipping, you must spend at least $50.

Piperlime — Owned by the same parent company as Old Navy, Piperlime sells upscale, brand-name clothing for the whole family, plus shoes and accessories. You have 30 days from the purchase date to take advantage of free return shipping. Items arrive at your home within 5 business days of your order placement.

Fossil — Best known for its stylish watches, Fossil offers free returns within 90 days of purchase. Orders shipped free arrive within 5 business days.

Brooks Running — You’ll have to spend $75 to get free FedEx shipping, but you’ll also get free returns when ordering from Brooks Running. The store sells running shoes, apparel and accessories for men and women.

As evidenced by the growing number of retailers offering free returns, it’s apparently good for business to do so. This CNBC article references a study that shows huge growth in future purchases when free returns are available.

What are your favorite online stores offering free shipping and free returns?

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Get 14 percent cash back on purchases from big-name stores

Ebates is celebrating its birthday by supersizing the savings it offers you when shopping at many large retailers. Ebates always gives you cash back on purchases when you start your online shopping at its website (for details, see my previous post), but now the percentage you get back has more than doubled for many stores as part of this promotion.

Currently, you can get 14 percent cash back at these stores:

  • Macy’s
  • Nordstrom
  • Under Armour
  • Gap
  • Old Navy
  • Tommy Hilfiger
  • Banana Republic
  • Colorful Images
  • eBags
  • Elizabeth Arden
  • Godiva
  • Hanes
  • Vistaprint
  • Vanity Fair
  • Reebok

There are many more stores offering 14 cash back. A full list is available at Ebates.com. Look for the “Celebrate our birthday” link in the top right corner of the page to find it.

Plus, you can get 42 percent cash back on an Angie’s List membership — check out my previous post on whether Angie’s list is worth the money. 42 percent is also available at Magazines.com.

The Ebates website doesn’t make it clear how long this promotion will last, so if you’ve got some shopping to do, get started now and cash in on the savings!

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Dick’s Sporting Goods, Best Buy rewards programs need improvement

Rewards are a way for companies to show they care about customers. Acknowledging your patrons’ loyalty with the lure of a bonus can prompt them to choose your store over a competitor’s. Many companies offer bonus points you collect each time you make a purchase, then allow you to pool those points for discounts on a future purchase.

I try to save money everywhere possible, so I gladly enrolled in the free rewards programs offered by Dick’s Sporting Goods and Best Buy. I was surprised by a recent email indicating I had no points in my Dick’s “Scorecard” account, because I know I purchased more than one item at Dick’s last year. When I asked a sales representative at the local store if points expire, she said “no” and advised me to log into my account at mydickssportinggoods.com. I did just that when I returned home but found no record of my 2012 purchases. I went to the site’s FAQ page and found the following:

  • Will my points ever expire?

    Yes, all points balances will be reset to 0 on the Sunday closest to January 31st of each year.”

So, it turns out the sales rep was incorrect. Not only that, but the way I read this policy, your points could expire within a few days of your purchase if you buy something in the month of January.

Another company I make occasional purchase from is Best Buy, which offers a program called “Reward Zone.” The program’s website indicates a practice similar to the Scorecard program:

  • “At the beginning of every calendar year, the points in your account (except Premier Silver members and Reward Zone Gamers Club Unlocked members) will be issued as reward certificates down to the $5 level, and any remaining points will be forfeited. You will begin getting points for the new calendar year on January 1. For example, if you have 300 points, you will receive a $5 reward certificate (250 points) and you will forfeit 50 points.”

If these and other companies want to show customers they truly value them, they should not apply 12-month expiration policies to their rewards programs. I can see the wisdom of expiring points every 3-5 years to save the company the expense of recordkeeping on inactive customers. But every 12 months (or less, in the case of Dick’s Sporting Goods)?

If you have points in a store’s rewards program, be sure to check the expiration policy so you can make an informed decision on the timing of your next purchase and not miss out on savings opportunities.

Do you participate in a rewards program that doesn’t allow points to expire? What retailer rewards programs do you find most valuable?

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A great tool to get free Amazon shipping

One of the great features of Amazon shopping is the ability to get free shipping on orders of $25 or more. Items that qualify for the free shipping program have the words “eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping” next to their price.

But what if you have $24.32 worth of items? You don’t really want to buy something extra that would cost you more on Amazon than it would at your local Target or Walmart. So, you need to find a cheap item to get you to the $25 mark. But how do you do that when there are hundreds of thousands of items on Amazon? I recently discovered a neat online tool that does the work for you.

Use the Amazon Filler Item Finder at www.filleritem.com. Enter the amount you need to spend to get free shipping, and click “Search.” The website will return a list of items that fit the bill, along with a link to each item. Popular items have bold links. Each item has its price displayed besides its link.

The results aren’t always perfect. Sometimes, the item will turn out to be part of Amazon’s new add-on item program, requiring you to spend $25 before the item is eligible for free shipping. But, I’ve found the results on this website much more accurate than other, fancier-looking sites that often have limited results or incorrect prices for items.

Many of the items in your search may be things you wouldn’t use, like gasket seals, pipe fittings or guitar strings. But, you can always give them to a friend or donate them to charity, and spending 46 cents on something you don’t need is better than spending several dollars on shipping. One way to find something you’ll actually use is to up your minimum price a bit. So, if you only need to spend 46 cents to fill out your order, enter $1 into the Amazon Filler Item Finder instead. By spending a few cents more, you may find something you can actually use, like this dispensing bottle I used to round out my order.

What are your favorite cheap items to fill out orders on Amazon?

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How to get a great deal on custom framing made in the USA

My mission? Find a frame for a 12-inch by 12-inch photo print I bought at a street festival last fall. Since this is a nonstandard size, I knew I would have to purchase a custom frame for my item.

My first stop? A major arts-and-crafts supply store that offers custom framing. Armed with a 50-percent-off coupon, I thought I could easily get my item framed for around $60. After all, it was already matted —all I needed was the frame. I was so sure that I’d get a decent price that I brought my print to the store, expecting to return in a few days to pick it up. To be honest, I didn’t really care for the store’s selection of frames, but I was willing to settle for one that looked decent because 50 percent off seemed like a great deal. That was, until I got the price quote. I don’t recall the exact amount, but it was around $130. I took my hummingbird photo print and returned home.

I didn’t bother going to other major or locally owned framing shops, because I figured the results would be about the same. Instead, I turned to an online resource I’d used before in a similar situation: SendAFrame.com. The company may not have the fanciest website, and you may never have heard of it before, but it’s a great place to go if you need a custom frame.  Plus, you get a product made in the USA.

SendAFrame.com is a lot like quick-service restaurants where you build your own meal. In the website’s custom-framing section, you pick the size of frame you want, the material you want it to be built from, the frame width and the frame color. You choose whether to have a matte included with your frame, and what shape, size and color it should be. Want a mounting board? You can add that to your order as well.

Have a question? I got a quick answer to mine from a friendly customer service representative using the website’s chat feature.

Here's my print in the frame I purchased from SendAFrame.com

Here’s my print in the frame I purchased from SendAFrame.com

After you place your order, SendAFrame.com builds your frame by hand. My item was constructed and shipped quickly. The only criticism I have is that the instructions enclosed with the frame were confusing, and the metal hanger we had to attach to the frame was of poor quality. The latter is easily rectified by purchasing your own hook at a local hardware store.

If your order totals $49 or more, it ships free. My order was close to that price at $42.50, so I got a small photo album from the site to get free shipping. If I’d gone with pay-your-own shipping, my order total would actually have been higher than it was with the photo album.

Speaking of photo albums, SendAFrame.com has a good selection of those as well. I’ve previously purchased a product from their “build-your-own” photo album line. This allows me to select the album, which has a three-ring-binder style, and then choose the photo print sizes I want it to hold. In my case, I had a lot of 8 x 10 photos to keep, so I bought a package of 8 x 10 sheets, as well as some that held other nonstandard-size photos.

The company also sells ready-made frames and gifts.

The custom frame I purchased from SendAFrame.com cost about 2/3 less than the price quoted at my local chain store. I got good customer service, fast shipping and a beautiful, high-quality wood frame. The next time I need a custom frame, I’ll go straight to this website.

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Filed under Customer service, Made in USA, Product recommendations, Saving money