Savvy Shopper: How to be a smarter shopper this year

Sunday, January 3, 2010 (Updated 3:00 am)
By Mike Fuchs
Staff Writer

  If your New Year's resolution is to become a smarter shopper in 2010, I've got some great ways to get the year started.
  For starters, invest in some coupon books. Take it from me. The savings can add up.
  In 2009, my wife and I bought the Attractions Dining and Value Guide for Greensboro and surrounding areas.
  Some of the things we used it for included redeeming two $5 coupons at CVS.
  We also got a $25 gift card for transferring a prescription to CVS.
  Keeping my priorities in life straight, I used a $20 coupon at Gander Mountain (2223 Vanstory St.; 852-4224) to stock up on fishing supplies.
  The book came in handy at local eateries, including Vito's Italian Restaurant (2258 Golden Gate Drive; 370-0084) in Greensboro, where we saved $10. An $8 lunch entree coupon at Sweet Basil's (620 Dolley Madison Road; 632-3070) hit the spot.
  For the year, we wound up saving $123.09.
  Not too shabby, when you consider the book sells for $25, although I was able to buy one for $12.50. (News & Record employees can buy them at half-price per an arrangement with the circulation department.)
  But we'd still have come out way ahead if we paid full price.
  We also bought the 2010 version of that book for the same price and the 2010 Entertainment coupon book for $23 (they were having a $12-off special.)
  I'm curious if you've used these coupon books and what you think about them.
  Get a deal on smart phones
  Smart phones are increasingly becoming another feather in a savvy shopper's cap.
  Want to make sure you're getting the best deal? No problem. At the store, just aim your cell phone camera at a product's barcode to find out what it would cost elsewhere. Or use your smart phone's GPS to find discounts at nearby stores.
  Then there's the electronic coupons you get straight from your phone.
  Concerning applications that let you scan barcodes, I recently put one to the test to see whether it's the real deal.
  It's called the RedLaser barcode scanner, a popular iPhone application that sells for $1.99. Although customer reviews are solid -- four out of five stars -- I got mixed results.
  Here's how it works: Using the iPhone's built-in camera, you hover the cell phone over the product barcode and wait for a few seconds until it's scanned.
  You then get a list of prices and places you can buy that product displayed on your iPhone. You also can allow it to detect your location so it can find stores closest to you, which I did.
  I scanned the barcode of a video game called "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" for the Xbox 360 that I recently purchased and got a ton of results (mostly online shopping sites). It said the best deal was at Walmart for $50.
  So far so good.
  However, it failed to deliver the goods when I tried it on a few grocery items, including Blue Moon beer (no results showing local stores) and Kashi Go Lean Crunch! cereal.
  Regarding the cereal, it only showed one local store where I could buy it (Walgreens for $3.68) and none for the beer, although many Triad grocers carry both those brands. (We bought them at Harris Teeter.)
  You're also supposed to be able to scan a book's barcode to check for reviews.
  I randomly tried it on a book called "Whoever Fights Monsters," by serial killer expert Robert K. Ressler, whom I covered as a reporter when he spoke to students at Elon University years ago.
  No dice. I got five results, but they all referred to a book called "The Black Book" by Ian Rankin.
  Let's try another one. A co-worker just bought Diana Gabaldon's "An Echo in the Bone"; so I gave it a shot.
  No results. I hovered the iPhone over the barcode (trying to hold it steady can get tiresome after awhile) and nothing happened.
  Having said that, your results may vary. Others have raved about this app. The list of available items to compare keeps growing, too.
  Free financial advice
  If getting your financial house in order is one of your New Year's resolutions, you might want to check out some free events hosted by money experts this month in Greensboro.
  The Your Money Bus Tour resumes its second year, stressing the importance of saving money and eliminating debt. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors is among the groups participating. It's part of a nationwide tour.
  Two sessions will be on Jan. 21 at the Hemphill Branch Library (2301 W. Vandalia Road; 373-2925): 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.
  The Bryan Family YMCA (501 W. Market St.; 478-9622) will host two sessions on Jan. 22. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.
  Blanket your YMCA cost
  Hoping to get in shape in 2010? Some local YMCA branches have got you covered as far as membership dues go.
  Just donate a new or gently used blanket by Jan. 31, and they'll waive the membership fee, which can be up to $75 a person.
  Branches participating in Greenboro are Bryan Family YMCA (501 W. Market St.; 478-9622), Hayes-Taylor Memorial YMCA (1101 East Market Street; 272-2131) and Spears Family YMCA (3216 Horse Pen Creek Road; 387-9622). In Jamestown: Ragsdale Family YMCA (900 Bonner Drive; 882-9622). In Reidsville: Reidsville Family YMCA (504 S. Main St.; 342-3307). In Whitsett: Stoney Creek Express YMCA (954 Golf House Road West; 449-3222).
  Now in its seventh year, the YMCA has donated more than 10,000 blankets so far to nonprofits, including homeless shelters and group homes.