Shopping for deals © Corbis

The Basics

Be a bargain-shopping champ

Here are one master shopper's secrets for snagging the best deals from grocers, drugstores and more. Plus: How she scored 40 free cans of beans.

By Donna Freedman

I got 40 cans of pork and beans without forking over a dime.

I don't pay for shampoo. Or toothpaste, lotion and many other toiletries. In fact, I often get paid to use them.

I don't spend money on the dishwasher soap and Scrubbing Bubbles cleanser that I give to my daughter. And the one-gigabyte flash drive and the paper-shredder I recently gave as gifts? Both free.

If you live anywhere near decent drugstores, supermarkets or office-supply stores, then you, too, can save a bundle. It's pretty simple and takes up surprisingly little time. Here's how.

Read food ads carefully. About those beans: A grocery store offered a $10 store coupon if you bought 20 products from a certain manufacturer, whose pork and beans happened to be two for a dollar that week. I bought 20 of them for $10 and got a store coupon for . . . $10. So I went back and bought 20 more, and got another $10 in scrip. Soon after that, another grocery had a coupon for a free package of hot dogs with any purchase. I went in, bought one apple and came out with the hot dogs -- and no question about what to serve with them.

Another market had a "save $7 instantly coupon with the purchase of seven Kraft food items" coupon in the ad, along with some other Kraft coupons that let me buy four 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, two boxes of crackers and two jars of mayonnaise for a total of $10.96. Then the store took off $7. That's a lot of food for $3.96, especially since a bagel and cream cheese is the basis of many of my brown-bag lunches.

Read ALL ads, for that matter. I bought a piece of software at an office superstore because it came with a free-after-rebate shredder. The software cost is a business expense to me, and the shredder became a Christmas gift. (Hey, they asked for a shredder! At least it wasn't a fruitcake.)

That flash drive, another gift, was free after rebate on the day after Thanksgiving. Of course, I paid the sales tax on both, but they were still darned cheap presents. Often I don't even pay sales tax if I . . .

Video on MSN Money: Donna Freedman goes shopping

Donna Freedman on MSN Money
Video: The recipe for bargain-shopping
Combining coupons, rebates, store sales and a little effort can save you big bucks when shopping. Go along with Donna Freedman as she cashes in coupons and reveals her secrets.

Combine coupons and rebates. Walgreens, Rite Aid and Long's Drugs offer monthly "single-check rebates," and some of the featured items are free after the rebate. If I have coupons for these products, they cover sales tax and postage; sometimes I even make money on the deal.

Go ahead, laugh. But for nearly three years I haven't paid a dime for shampoo, toothpaste, analgesics, lotion or many other items. I've gotten a free surge protector, light bulbs, extension cords and a computer keyboard. And I've paid a fraction of the usual price for vitamins, laundry soap, cleaning supplies and other products.

The Sunday morning routine

It's not hard. Really. Sunday mornings, I spend five to 10 minutes clipping coupons and another five minutes filing them. Certain products are repeatedly offered free after rebate. You start recognizing and saving coupons for all the "recidivist" brands. (My daughter may never run out of dishwasher soap, for example.) I also always clip coupons for new products, because they'll almost certainly have rebates sooner or later.

I hit all three stores in the same trip, one hour or less total per week. Since the ads single out the rebate items, it's a fairly idiot-proof process. You send a month's worth of offers in one envelope; Rite Aid's rebates can be filed online. The refund checks arrive 10 days to two weeks after filing.

Continued: Rebates add up

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