Kevin Mensch of Coon Rapids knows outlets and surplus stores. He has shopped at many of them for years -- Ax-Man, Discount 70, PPL, Brand Name Deals and more. But spendthrifts who shopped at Macy's and Target before the economy went south might not have heard of the outlet and surplus stores that buy returns, overstocks, scratch-and-dents and clearance items from discounters, warehouse clubs and department stores. Here are five great outlets for the newly frugal:

Bargain Seeker

Cherokee Shopping Center, 6278 Boone Av. N., Brooklyn Park, 763-533-0435

The shelves are neat, tidy and almost sparse. The merchandise comes from discounters' returns and some catalog companies, including bedding, towels, health and beauty products, tools and clothes for women and kids.

Good find: A Pasta N More As-Seen-on-TV item for $4, regularly $20.

Best bets: As-Seen-on-TV merchandise and comforter sets.

Return policy: Refunds within five working days.

Big Harry Deals

Brookdale, Brooklyn Center, 763-566-3727

Similar to Brand Name Deals and Discount 70, BHD has household goods, tools, health and beauty products and a large toy selection.

Best bets: The excellent selection of Fisher-Price and other brands of Power Wheels battery-powered ride-on cars for kids. Prices are $50 to $100 less than at discounters and assembly is free. Service and replacement parts, including batteries ($20), are available through the store. Cars discounted an additional 10 percent through March.

Good find: A 201-piece Stanley tool set for $45.

Return policy: All sales final.

Brand Name Deals

1000 E. Moore Lake Dr., Fridley, 763-572-9800,

BND is similar to Discount 70, but its quality control isn't as tight. The selection includes electronics, DVDs, video games, tools, furniture, household goods, health and beauty items, pet supplies, clothes and domestic goods. Save your receipt: Mensch said he has purchased tools and small appliances that didn't work.

Best bets: Dinnerware sets from Corelle and Dansk. A 42-piece Corelle set is $35; 16-piece sets are $16.

Good find: Bedding in a bag for $15 to $36.

Return policy: 10 days with a receipt and original packaging.

Discount 70

4027 Central Av. NE., Columbia Heights, 763-781-8922

Mensch's favorite for selection and low prices. It's in a dumpy strip mall, but the bargains (70 percent off retail) are excellent. Much of the merchandise is scratch-and-dent. Fans of a certain warehouse club will notice its KS private label. A few pieces of Lalique, Lladro and Versace giftware came from there.

Best bets: Furniture, clothing and seasonal (Easter decor).

Good find: A Samsung 19- cubic-foot refrigerator with stainless exterior and a small dent for $540, regularly $1,000.

Return policy: 30 days. Purchases made on a credit card get a charge credit. Cash sales get store credit.

PPL Shop

850 15th Av. NE., Mpls., 612-789-3322,

Thrift-store shoppers think the merchandise is overpriced. Fans like the high-quality brands at discounted prices. It can be a confusing mix of new (knickknacks, kitchenware, rugs, bedding) and used (office furniture, tools, framed art). For lowest prices, shop sales. The next one: April 14-18.

Best bets: High-end office furniture, tools and framed posters.

Good find: Martin Brattrud swivel chairs (10 years old) marked down to $160 from $1,300. The fabric is faded, but these are of top-notch quality, as are the Herman Miller pieces. It's a gold mine for individuals or small businesses looking to furnish an office.

Return policy: Seven days on electronics only.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or