When it comes time to stock up on household items and wardrobe basics like t-shirts and socks, many consumers turn to big box stores like Target to get the job done.
I’ll be the first to admit that shopping at Target isn’t one of my favorite experiences, but it is my go-to one-stop shop. As a single woman juggling two kids and a full-time job, sometimes I need to hit up a store where I can cross off a lot of items from my shopping list all at once.
The main problem for me is that it’s really hard to stick to my list and within my budget with so many pretty shiny things to distract me.
In an attempt to save myself a lot of money (and grief), I’ve committed to following a few basic rules before coming face-to-face with that red bull’s eye.
Shop According to the Markdown Schedule
This is an unofficial schedule. Stores can vary, so check with your local Target before you get your heart set on scoring a deal on a new yoga mat.
Monday: Children’s Clothing, Electronics, Stationary, Office supplies, Giftwrap, Cards
Tuesday: Women’s Apparel, Domestics, Pets, Food
Wednesday: Men’s Apparel, Health and Beauty, Toys (also on Thursday), Lawn and Garden
Thursday: Shoes, Lingerie, Toys, Housewares, Luggage, Décor, Sporting Goods, Movies, Music, Books
Friday: Cosmetics, Hardware, Automotive, Housewares, Jewelry
For hardcore Target fans, shopping around these markdown dates is a way of life. If you are dead set on a discounted smartphone dock or you need to stock up on underwear for the entire family, the best advice I have for you is to arrive early (as in — when the store opens) and start stalking the aisles accordingly. This is especially true as we approach the holiday season.
Also, when Target items do go on sale, the general markdowns start at 15%, then 30%, then 50%, and then 75%. Markdowns get lowered every two weeks. Occasionally an item will get marked down by 90%, but I wouldn’t plan on holding out for that to happen.
Target has two big clearance events every year in addition to their regular markdown schedule.
Toy Clearance: Target has a bi-annual toy clearance every July and October. Of course, you can also find toys on clearance after Christmas and into January, but unless you want to stockpile toys in your closet for nearly an entire year, hitting the clearance sales in July and October is a great way to save money on your holiday shopping.
Baby Clearance: January and July typically see massive markdowns throughout the baby department.
As the mother of two small children, shopping this annual event might be the closest I will ever come to competing in a professional sporting event. Come early and come prepared.
In additional to markdowns on clothing and other essentials, you can expect to see deep discounts on some big-ticket baby items like car seats and highchairs.
While I much prefer to shop thrift stores for inexpensive and gently used children’s clothing, sometimes I have to bite the bullet and invest in some brand new t-shirts and leggings. The baby clearance is my time to do that.
Download a Price-Checking App
This article has a great roundup of money-saving shopping apps. Scan merchandise and use apps to check for deeper discounts or missed markdowns.
This is particularly true for items on racks and shelves that are one-of-a-kind. It’s possible they are from previous seasons or were recently returned and aren’t tagged correctly.
Take advantage of Target’s price-matching policy by using your app to compare prices at other retailers. Read up on the rules of the policy here.
Read between the lines
Don’t get fooled by a seemingly low price. The clearance stickers have hidden codes that tell you how much the item was discounted. The original price of the item appears at the top right-hand corner and is then followed by the discount percentage like, 15, 30, 50, etc.
If the current markdown isn’t enough of a bargain for you, wait two weeks and then check back (remember: Target marks down their sale merchandise bi-weekly).
For some essential items, you might not want to risk waiting for a bigger discount. I recently caught kid’s fleece jackets the day they went on sale, and when I went back the next day to exchange sizes, they were almost all gone.
Shop the Ends of the Aisles
The ends of the aisles contain discounted merchandise. Sometimes it seems like random odds and ends are piled up there, but it’s worth sorting through the mess.
Sale merchandise if often hidden from high-traffic areas, so make sure you cruise the entire perimeter of the store.
Get Crazy with the Coupons
Target accepts printable Internet coupons, manufacturer coupons, store coupons from their website, and mobile coupons that are sent via text message five times a month.
If you’re lucky, you will be able to combine coupons to get double discounts.
While I am not interested in opening any new credit or debit cards, some Target shoppers can save a lot of money by using a Target REDcard.
I have friends who use their REDcards to get an additional 5% off their entire purchase and then walk right over to customer service and pay it off.
Consumers can also use their REDcards for online purchases to get the same 5% discount and enjoy free shipping.
Finally, Target has an educational program that gives 1% of your purchases back to the school of your choice.
If you do a lot of your shopping at Target, these benefits might be worth it, but only if you are responsible and diligent about paying the balance off right away.
Morgan is a freelance writer and editor living in Southern California with her two daughters and flock of backyard chickens. You can read more of her at The Little Hen House.