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How to Save at Wal-Mart -- or Anywhere Else

The store's new slogan is 'Save Money. Live Better.'

Shopping for a good price rather than purchasing items at the most convenient location can save you thousands of dollars a year.

That is



message in its

new slogan: "Save Money. Live Better." Research by Wal-Mart consultant Global Insight indicates that the retailer saves the average U.S. family $2,500 a year, an increase of $171, or 7.3%, from an estimated $2,329 that Wal-Mart saved families in a 2004 survey.

Savings at Wal-Mart stores -- or any other retailer -- can be found in a number of places, as long as you're willing to commit the time to find them. Here are some simple steps you can take to save even more money when shopping:

Check competitive ads

: Before you head to the store, check out all the weekly advertisements and see which stores have the best prices on the items you need to buy. Most Wal-Mart stores will match prices in the advertisements of any of their competitors. You will need to ask the Wal-Mart manager at your local store to confirm if they do match prices. If they do, you can take the weekly ads in with you and then you will be guaranteed not only to get Wal-Mart's best price, but the best price for the item advertised in your city.

Gift cards

: If you know that you will be shopping regularly at Wal-Mart, then you can save a few extra percentage points on your goods by purchasing gift cards on the

secondary market. Gift cards are sold at a discount on sites like

eBay, because the person who received them wants cash instead of store credit. If you check for gift cards being sold on the secondary market on a regular basis, you should be able to knock an additional 5% off the cost of your purchases.

Check for rebates

: Before you make a purchase, take the time to see if the product also comes with a rebate. Sometimes it is not obvious while in the store that certain products are running rebate promotions, but you can find out which products are offering rebates

online. While you need to be

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careful when submitting forms to make sure you get your rebate, they can add significant savings to your shopping if you develop an efficient system to take advantage of them.

Free samples

: When checking online to see what products have rebates, it's worthwhile to make an extra click and see what

free samples Wal-Mart has available. The free samples change frequently and can run out quickly, but if you check on a regular basis, you should be able to get quite a few of them throughout the year. Best of all, they don't cost a cent.

Online-only offers

: Some of the best deals on the products you are looking for may not even be available in the retail store. More and more retailers, including Wal-Mart, are offering

exclusive online offers, which can save you money over buying products at a retail outlet. It is worthwhile to check to see if any of these online specials are available for the products you're looking to purchase.

Other Shopping Tips

Using these tips should help you maximize your Wal-Mart savings. But some of the same methods could also be adapted to other retailers, no matter where you shop.

In addition, don't forget to incorporate these classic money-saving steps into your routine:

Use coupons

: Just be sure the coupons are for items that you would have purchased even if you didn't have the coupon.

Bring a list

: Shopping with a list and sticking to it will help you avoid impulse purchases and buying things you don't really need.

Consolidate trips

: Instead of stopping by the store on a daily basis, make one weekly or bi-weekly trip. Not only will this mean less overall time spent in the store, cutting down on impulse purchases, it also means less money spent driving your vehicle to and from the store.

Shop when it's not crowded

: Shop early in the day or late in the evening, when the store is least crowded. This will allow you to get in and out of the store faster with your shopping list, which will help you to spend less.

Know where to look

: When picking out products, always remember to scan the bottom and top shelves. The products the store makes the most money on -- which usually means the more expensive ones -- are chest-high, where they are easy to see and reach.

Check your receipt

: Don't trust the scanners, because a lot of unintentional pricing mistakes can happen, especially in stores where they change prices often. Take a quick look before you leave to make sure you weren't overcharged.

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Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs