Dollars & Sense columnist John Ewoldt searches the Twin Cities and beyond for bargains and strategies to spare you time, money and hassles.
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Posts about Discounters

Twin Cities' best shopping, foods, drinks and entertainment

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: May 16, 2012 - 1:58 PM


When I moved to the Twin Cities 25 years ago, the "best of" issues from The Reader, City Pages, Skyway News and Minneapolis St. Paul magazine introduced me to unknown places I should try. I still devour any "best of" list from a publication, blog or website, but for different reasons. Now I look at them to respectfully disagree or agree or to look for an offbeat choice that I haven't heard of.

I encourage you to check out the "Best of MN" tab in the Star Tribune on May 16 or online. It includes the best county fair, best state park, best hiking trail, best places for canoeing (in and out of the metro), best budget golf course, best men's store on a tight budget, best gift shop for men or women, and best home furnishings stores. Foodies can check out the selections for cheap eats and wine store outlets. 


Stroll through our selections, nod your head at a couple, feel a sense of outrage at an omission or two, and check out a couple of spots that you hadn't heard of before. That's the beauty of a Best Of. 


Feel free to comment if there's a fave of yours that we didn't give its due.  


Target's boutiques get an A for effort, but really, what's the fuss?

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: May 10, 2012 - 11:48 AM

Have you ever been in a really cool shop when you're traveling and bought something that you'd never seen back home? That's the spirit behind Target's new boutiques called "The Shops at Target collections."

It's another piece in Target's brilliant marketing strategy that keeps shoppers surprised and sometimes delighted to find what's on the discounter's shelves. But this latest marketing attempt looks better in concept than in reality.  

Not to rain on the whole collection--there are some cute items, including the Privet melamine dinner plates ($4) and drinking glasses ($4), which were in stock in the downtown Minneapolis store Thursday morning but are mostly out of stock online. (Here we go again.) The online selection is larger than in stores, when it's in stock. In the stores, the Polka Dot bakery items were removed from the end cap at the downtown Target because too many items had been sold, said a stocker.


Target created five vignettes placed throughout the store, mostly on end caps, under large, brown signs labeled "The shops at Target," including the Candy Shop, Cos Bar cosmetics, Polka Dot Bakery for dogs, Privet House home accessories and Webster clothing. A few pieces of the Webster clothing and Privet home furnishings seem unique. The Webster Florida-inspired clothing for women is colorful and playful. The men's line is passable, except for the white pants, which will probably languish on the clearance racks.

Has anyone ever been to any of the shops on which these collections are based? For example, the Candy Store in San Francisco? The Cos Bar in Aspen, Colo.? The Polka Dot Bakery in Boston? Privet House in Connecticut? Webster in Miami? Did Target get the inspiration right? What are your thoughts on the collection in stores or online?

Unofficial garage sale opener this weekend. Tips for buyers, sellers

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: May 4, 2012 - 11:51 AM



Let the garage sale season begin.  Bryn Mawr's "festival of garage sales" that many consider the unofficial opener because it's one of the oldest, most well-established neighborhood sales. Bryn Mawr's sale doesn't officially open until Saturday, but many families do a pre-sale on Friday. It's the ultimate preview for early birds.


Besides, Bryn Mawr's sale, there are at least 10 other large sales this weekend, including Tangletown, Fish Lake, Summit Hill neighborhoods, the 100-mile garage sale along the Mississippi, the Champlin citywide sale, as well as church or school sales at St. Anthony Village, Eden Prairie Immanuel Lutheran Church and St. John's Episcopal church in St. Paul. Details about these sales can be found here.


Whether you're holding a sale or attending them, here are some tips to make it successful. if you're a shopper, check your own clutter before leaving home. The low prices at garage sales make it too easy to add to the pile. Bring an assortment of bills--$1s and $5s, in case the seller doesn't have a lot of change. Finally, bargain hunters, if the sellers won't meet your price, hand them your business card or phone number to call you if they change their mind.

Sellers, put a large item in front of your sale to attract drive-bys. It could be a piece of furniture or the life-size SpongeBob won at the State Fair Midway. Make sure things are clean and tidy and clearly marked if broken. And if someone comes up short of cash, be prepared to give directions to the closest ATM.

 Also happening this weekend:

The Living Green Expo at the Minnesota State fairgrounds (9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Sunday) highlights how families and individuals can make green living easier and cheaper.

Is Best Buy or Target the "worst company in America"? Last day to vote.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: March 14, 2012 - 1:46 PM

Forget your NCAA pairings for now, Wednesday, March 14 is the last day to vote in round one of the showdown between the company who couldn't fill Black Friday orders vs. the company who couldn't fill Missoni online purchases 

Twin Cities-based retailers Target and Best Buy are just two of the companies duking it out for "Worst Company in America," according to the Consumerist, a subsidiary of Consumer Reports. Thirty-two companies were nominated for the dubious distinction, which are selected from reader submissions.


This is Target's first appearance in the ignominious challenge. Best Buy has "years of experience" being nominated as "worst company," according to Consumerist. 


As of Wednesday morning Best Buy was way out in front with 87% of the vote compared to 13% for Target.  But nearly 150 people have commented online with complaints and more than a sprinkling of praise for each.

Depending on which retailer "wins" round one, there are 15 other match-ups, including Wells Fargo v. Citigroup, Spirit v. Delta (Twin Citians may want a rematch next year after Spirit starts service in May), Sears/Kmart vs. Wal-Mart, DirecTV v. Dish and Comcast v. Time



You can vote here. Whom did you vote for or do you think nominating Best Buy and Target as worst companies is undeserved? 


Is Target's Redcard (the one with the 5% discount) a good deal?

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: January 26, 2012 - 1:57 PM


I finally broke down last week and got a Target Redcard. Big deal, right? They've been around since 2010.  


What took me so long? I assumed that the most attractive feature--5% off nearly all purchases at Target or was a temporary come-on. We've all gotten credit card offers touting balance transfers with zero percent interest for six months. Why open another credit card account with such a small window of opportunity?


But since Target doesn't appear to be pulling back on its Rewards program, I caved. (Target spokeswoman Jenna Reck said the 5 percent reward program will be consistently evaluated.) Why not get an extra five percent on everything bought  there--regular-priced stuff, clearance stuff and sale stuff, plus free shipping on Only a few items are exempted from the discount--prescriptions, gift cards, Target Clinic services, Mobile Solutions and Target Optical eye exams, although enrolling in the Pharmacy Rewards program qualifies you for an additional reward if buy five RXs. 

I was going to try to keep all of my Target receipts for the year to see how much it saves me, but the receipt shows my year to date savings. Near the bottom of the receipt it lists "Today's Redcard savings" and "2012 Redcard savings." How much any of us spend at Target in a year is a number many of us might like to know. I'm going to guess that I spend $2,400 a year at Target, (about $46 per week) which means I predict saving about $120 per year on the no-annual fee card.  

The Redcard, which can be a Target debit, Target credit or Target Visa card, was used for about 8.6 percent of all credit and debit card transactions charged at Target in the first nine months of 2011, according to Target executive vice-president of merchandising Kathee Tesija.


When I asked to open a Redcard account in the store, the clerk didn't ask me if I wanted a Visa Target or a Target card that can only be used at Target. I got the store card, which is fine. (A reader has since updated me that the Target Visa is no longer offered, but still valid for those who already have one.) The interest rate is 22.9 percent, but since I plan to pay off my balance every month, it's irrelevant. Payments on the  credit cards (Target Visa or Target Credit) can be made in the store.

For the curious, Wal-Mart offers a Wal-Mart credit card or a Wal-Mart Discover.  Both are no-annual-fee like Target, and both offer discounts. The Discover card gives you a 1% cash back on all purchases and five cents per gallon discount

at Wal-Mart gas stations. The Wal-Mart card includes the gas offer.


Has anyone tallied the savings earned from your Redcard so far?


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