Clearance Shopping at Target

One of my best frugal shopping strategies is clearance shopping at Target. I almost never pay retail at Target. After only paying 25% of the original price a few times, paying full retail is just….well, not frugal.

My family laughs at my adept skill at finding the best bargains at Target. They can laugh all they want. When I tell you about my shopping trip earlier this week, you too will be a believer in Target clearance shopping.

But first, a disclaimer. To make Target clearance shopping truly frugal, you have to abide by three rules.

  1. Only buy things you need or have plans to purchase anyway.
  2. Stick to your budget.
  3. Don’t use your credit card.

Now that we have the rules out of the way, lets get on to shopping.

Wednesday I stopped by my local Target to pick up some Folgers Simply Smooth coffee. No, it wasn’t on clearance, but it’s the only brand of coffee that doesn’t make me sick. And I did have a coupon. And it was on sale. Anyway…

I put the coffee in my cart and started browsing the perimeter of the store. The outside endcaps are usually where the best deals are located. I looked at the shampoos and makeup, but didn’t find anything priced for less than what I normally pay.

Then I hit electronics. I found a lot of great stuff there, but I didn’t put anything in my cart. I didn’t need any of it, and I had no immediate plans to buy the things I saw. I moved on to automotive. Normally I don’t find anything there, but I hit the jackpot on Wednesday. There were tons of NASCAR things on sale. I picked up several stickers, decals, and flags. Sam’s birthday is next month, and he wants a NASCAR party. The little gift bags are taken care of, and I spent less than $5 total.

I scored my best deals in the garden section. Everything was marked down. I bought 4 big planters for $1.24 each. I want to plant a big garden next summer, and these will come in handy. I didn’t need them, but I did have future plans to buy them.

And my big purchase of the day? I found a gas grill on clearance for $30. Before I put it in my cart, I called my husband to get his opinion. It’s always a good idea to consult your spouse before making a major purchase. Often this will confirm whether the purchase is a good idea, or it will serve as a reality check that maybe this purchase is a want rather than a need.

In this case, my husband agreed to the purchase. Our old charcoal grill is getting, well, old. We’ve been talking about making the switch to gas for a while. In this case it made sense to spend $30 now, rather than wait until next summer and spend over $100 (the original price of the grill).

Finally, I picked up some Speedo goggles for my son. He’s been complaining that his eyes hurt when he swims, and at $2.24 the price was right.

In the end I spent $55.33. When I added up the full retail prices, the total came to $213.24. I paid 26% of full retail (and that’s including that can of coffee that wasn’t on clearance). My shopping trip was successful for several reasons.

  • I only shopped the clearance sections. I walked the perimeter of the store and past each of the endcaps, but I never even ventured into the main aisles. I’m human, and I can be tempted to buy unnecessary items as much as the next person. By only shopping the clearance sections, I only saw the good deals. I wasn’t tempted by the full priced merchandise.
  • I shopped all the clearance sections, even the sections I don’t normally frequent. I don’t normally buy the automotive stuff for my family. My husband does. But if I hadn’t stopped there, I wouldn’t have scored the deals on the NASCAR items. You never know what you’ll find and where. Clearance items often get moved to wherever there’s room, so it pays to check all the clearance sections.
  • I had a good idea of what I needed. I keep a list of things that we’ll need in the future. I don’t always have it with me, but I have a pretty good idea what’s on it. I knew that we were going to need a new grill in the future. When I saw the inexpensive grill, I knew it was a purchase worth considering.
  • I know what I normally pay for things. Why did I pass up the shampoo? Because I know the brand I usually buy costs less than the clearance price of the shampoo at Target. Having a pricebook is good for this purpose. I don’t have one yet, but it’s one of my goals for the near future.
  • I shopped without the kids. Enough said.
  • Finally, when I wasn’t sure about a purchase, I took time to consider it. Instead of putting the grill in my basket right away, I took the time to call my husband and walk around the store a bit before I came back to it. In the end I was sure of my purchase because I had carefully considered it.

I don’t always have such great shopping trips at Target. In fact, most of the time I walk out of the store with nothing. But it’s worth it to keep checking back, because of weeks like this one. Bargains can be had, but you have to be patient and persistent.


By , on Sep 14, 2007
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. Nascar rocks! I just wish that Mark was doing better this year.

  2. Denise:

    The point about not taking kids along is a funny one but so true! Shopping strategy makes a difference and timing certainly does. We saved quite a bit of holiday budget to wait for the expected after-holiday sales. That was part of our plan ahead of time. Since then, we have been looking through bargains worth picking up. It’s not about being overly frugal, but simply smart shopping. In fact, we bought a large LCD TV over the holiday. We also sold or gave away some stuff on Craigslist to those who can need some stuff more than we do.

    As consumers, we are all trying to make do and get as much as possible for each dollar spent. Lately my family and I have been doing more research before buying anything, and have also done more online shopping and looked harder for better deals. As mentioned previously, we have not stopped spending, however.

    One of the online sites we have found to be useful is:

    They do have some interesting bargains listed that are not available even on price search engines. We were able to get more for each dollar. Hope that’s useful info for some.

  3. Bobloblaw:

    I work at Target and I can tell you there are some great times to consider buying clearance items.

    Purchase after a holiday for next year. The prices drop fast and Easter decorations will last. I recommend going the first day after Christmas because the items go very fast and you may not find what you are looking for.

    We change our merchandise roughly every quarter so as the season changes you will find more clearance items.

    Consider using as well. Go to multiple Targets. The clearance prices will vary because the price is based on quantity of the item – the fewer items the lower the price.

    Also look for damaged boxes of the items, clearance or not. Quite often you can get it marked down an additional 10% or more.

    We only mark down Monday through Friday. If you don’t find good deals by Friday, wait until Monday. Take the weekend off since you’ll probably have the kids anyway.

    If you can get a Target Visa card, use it for your purchases and then go to Guest Service and pay it off on the way out the door. When you spend $1000 you will get a coupon for a full day of shopping. This holds for prescriptions too, 10 prescriptions equals 10% in the future.

    If you need something that is not on clearance (the aforementioned coffee for example), and it’s not on sale don’t fret. Purchase it anyway and keep an eye out in the ad. If you purchased the item within 14 days of the ad you can get the price adjusted. This does not apply to clearance items, only sale items.

    Also, if you can manage to get a raincheck for an item in stock but on sale that you can’t afford right away, you can still get the sale price a month or so later. Most team members won’t do this but you may get lucky and find one who is willing to break the rules. Just don’t pester them because they can lose their jobs if they do it.

  4. beachwitch:

    I love Target! I also walk the perimeter of the store in search of clearance items. Often items from several departments will be combined on one endcap. My best bargain so far is a Kitchen Aid artisan stand mixer with attachments. The manufacture’s website lists the price at more than $300, but I got mine for $74. One more tip- don’t forget the frozen/refrigerated food sections when looking for bargains!

  5. Lynnae:

    Well, we put together the grill today and tried it out. It works pretty well!

    Lance, unfortunately we don’t have a Super Target here. I hear the deals are awesome at Super Target, though. I guess it’s the price I pay for not living in a major metropolitan area.

  6. Sorry, one more thing about Target. :) ..
    If you are lucky enough to have a Super Target, they grocery section is amazing! Same products at Smith’s or Albertson’s are consistently $2 or more (of course you have to shop around) :)


  7. My wife and I have a very similiar story to you. My mother got us on the path to “frugal” living and getting out of debt. If it weren’t for Target and Costco (lots of leftovers :)) we wouldn’t be able get to our goal either. Love your blog!

    I also found that, unlike a comment above, that we have never had ANY problems with ANY return at Target. Maybe just a regional thing! :)


  8. Sounds great, it’s so nice to feel good about a shopping trip for a change, instead of feeling guilty. Your son’s birthday party sounds like it will be a lot of fun!

  9. boomeyers:

    I hope the grill works out great. It is quite a deal! :)

  10. Hilda:

    Funny I was just at my local Target this morning…and I walked out of there empty-handed and my $50 gift card intact. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who walks in a store, leaves with nothing and doesn’t feel embarassed about it. DF has this warped notion that he is obligated to purchase something, anything, whenever he enters a store. Needless to say, I’m trying to reform him.

  11. Lynnae:

    Wow! I’ve never heard of only getting back the clearance price, even if it shows a higher price on your receipt. I’ve never had a problem with that! I did know about the 90 day policy. Unfortunately it seems that most stores are moving toward that these days. I’ve never really tested stores to see how flexible they are though.

    I do love that Target can look up your receipt if you have a debit card. I used that recently. I needed to return something and didn’t have the receipt, but I knew I used my debit card. That was convenient.

    But, you do bring up an important point. My husband and I were trying to decide whether to break out the grill right now or save it for next summer. We need to break it out right now to make sure it works. Thanks for the reminder!

  12. boomeyers:

    Wow! I hate Target. Their return policies are so horrible and they do not make exceptions. Period. I will admit Target has good deals. And I will shop there, but only for consumable items, like your coffee. I get food, cleaning items and toliet paper ( a guaranteed consumable! :-) ) I once bought my daughter a Christmas present there, then returned it when I realized that Christmas day was outside the 90 day policy. It was a camera, I could have been in trouble. If something goes wrong with the grill in the spring, you are stuck with nothing to do about it but contact the manufacturer. And if you buy on clearance and try to return it, even if you paid $1.00 each and it shows it on your reciept, they will still only refund you the current clearance price, say it dropped to .60 cents. Even if your receipt says $1.00. If you get a clearance doll and save it for Christmas and she opens it up and it is broken and there are no more left at Target, you can not return it if it is after 90 days. I realize many stores have this policy, but most are flexible, not Target. And heaven forbid if you lose your receipt!! You are OUT OF LUCK!!
    I apologize for the rant, you did save a great deal and I admire your frugal hunting skills. Its just the place in question!!

  13. Lynnae:

    Annie – Avoiding the pester power makes a world of difference!

    Paid Twice – I think there’s something about shopping for young girls. When my daughter was younger, I used to overbuy for her too. Now that she’s older and the clothes aren’t as cute, it’s not much of a problem. :)

    Randy – I like the idea of having a stash of gifts. I’m going to have to start one. Thanks for the tip!

    Kyle & David – Thanks! It was a great shopping trip. Clearance shopping is well worth it….if you only get what you need. :)

  14. Sounds like you scored big time, that’s a great shopping trip!

  15. Kyle:

    Great Post!

    PaidTwice…what is that all about, I do that as well, if it is a great deal I buy more than I need and end up just storing it somewhere. Not a good habit, your avoidance theory is a good one!

  16. Randy Peterman:

    My wife finds killer deals at Target, too! We haven’t raced out to get one of our little girls a birthday present for about 2 years now because my wife has a stash in the closet that she’s been building up, on the cheap, over time. More people need to be aware of these deals (as long as they’re not in my area where they may hedge in on our access ;) )

  17. This is great! Except… I can’t do it.

    I will leave with things I don’t need. I hardly ever pay full price for anything at Target either. But my daughter does not need more clothes. Yet I guarantee I would leave with some. lol

    I cannot control my urge to spend while there, so i just… avoid. Avoid! lol

  18. I loved your comment about not taking the kids shopping :-) I completed my first childless grocery shop for 11 years on Wednesday and it was a REVELATION!

    I saved a whole bunch by just avoiding the “pester power” factor.

    Who would have guessed that schooltime is a major budgeting factor for me?

    I also liked the tip about shopping the outside of the store first, doing all the aisle-ends for bargains. I’ve never done that before, I’m more of a straight-up-and-down-gal but I think I might use your method – sounds very sensible!

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