The Lady Who Bankrupted Herberger’s

It is the third of December and today I finished my Christmas shopping. I didn’t mean to, and I am probably exaggerating, because I will probably get the urge to buy something for somebody, most likely Lillian, in the next three weeks, but technically, I am done, because I accomplished what I set out to do over the next few weeks in just two days. Here’s how.


I had a list of four things I wanted to buy for Lillian this year. It started out as three, but she made a request for something that was not on the list so I added it. I had a hundred bucks in cash that I had salted away, a five dollar bill here, ten there, and a wad of ones, stuffed into a folder I keep beside my desk. Let me point out that we are modest gift shoppers for holidays, birthdays and anniversaries at our house, so generally, if we choose well, we can make each other happy for that amount.  I was pretty sure, when the list only had three things on it, that a hundred bucks would do it. That fourth item had me a little worried that it was going to be a budget-buster, forcing me to salt a little more money away this month, or leave something off the list.

So, yesterday I set off shopping, thinking there might be some post-Black Friday sales going on,  scrounging in an hour between other appointments. I had determined that between JC Penney’s and Herbergers, I could probably find all of these things. Finding them for a hundred bucks was another matter, but I was determined to give it my best shot. I’d have to find some sales.

First stop: Penney’s. We are Penney’s shoppers, generally, because we grew up with Penney’s, and it has always treated us right, and besides, Lillian’s sister is a long-time Penney’s employee and can sometimes get us discounts. There was a JC Penney’s store within two blocks of my house in Hettinger when I was growing up, and I had a crush on the manager’s daughter, this pretty little curly-headed blonde named Pam (her real name), from about the third grade until they moved away when we were just entering high school, and I used to sometimes just kind of hang out there in hopes of seeing her. So I know Penney’s.

Sure enough, I found what I am going to call Present A at Penney’s yesterday. It was, as I expected, one of the more expensive items on my list–$50—but indeed there was a sale on, and I could get it for $29.99 plus tax, so I took it. I paid the nice lady at the counter $31.94, and when she gave me my change, she also gave me a coupon, one of those kind that the cash register spits out after it spits out your receipt, and said “Here, this is good for ten dollars off on your next purchase of twenty five dollars or more.”

Well, I delighted in that, because now I had the $68.06 left from my hundred dollars, plus a ten dollar coupon. I figured I might just be able to pull this off now. So on the way out, while I still had a little time to kill, I walked over to the department where I might find one or more of the other three items. Sure enough, I found two of them, Present B and Present C. Together they cost $56, but they were both on the “25% off” rack, so I did some quick math, and figured out they would come to just $42, and if I used my ten dollars off coupon, just $32. Man, I was In Like Flint. But I was out of time, so I decided to come back today, and headed off to my lunch meeting.

Fast forward to 2 p.m. today. I am back in Penney’s. I grab Presents B and C that I am going to get for just $32 and realize that because of the 25 per cent off on each one, and my ten dollar coupon, I am going to pay just four dollars more for the two of them than the regular cost of one. Wow! I am some kind of shopper! I figure I might even be able to upgrade Present D a little bit. So I went looking. And found it.

There were several different brands, and I couldn’t see much difference among them, so I decided to get the color I like best (never mind that Lillian doesn’t especially like purple—I’m the one who’s going to have to be looking at it, and I do), figuring if she really dislikes it, she can bring it back and trade it in. So I grabbed the purple one, which was about the same as the others. Turns out it was also on sale, 25 per cent off.

At this point, I’ve got more numbers in my head than my English major brain can handle, but I think, with these sale prices and my ten dollars off coupon, I’m well within my budget.  So I head for the cash register.

I casually laid Presents B, C and D on the counter in front of a young girl substantially less than a third my age, and laid my ten dollars off coupon on top of them. She picked up the coupon, looked at it for about three seconds, and said “This is only good in home.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, so I asked, and she said “It’s good for things in Home.” The second time I realized she was talking about Home with a capital H—the part of the store that sells mixers and bedspreads, neither of which I needed.

Well, I figured I couldn’t add up all those numbers in my head and take 25 per cent off to see if I was under the $78.06 in my budget, and then decide if I should just take two of them, and which two, in the split second I needed to make that decision, with two ladies with arms full of clothing waiting behind me, so I just said “Oh. Well, okay then, thank you, anyway,” and  I just turned away and left Presents A, B and C on the counter. And headed for Herberger’s.

Where I learned something. You can sometimes buy the exact same things at Herberger’s—same brand, same color, same size, and amazingly, at the same 25 per cent off price—as  you can at Penney’s. At least you can buy Presents B, C and D, identical, at both places. The difference was, now I wasn’t standing at the counter with professional shoppers waiting in line behind me, so I had time to do the math. And guess what? It worked. I had $78.06 left in my budget, and Presents B, C, and D came to $82 at the regular price, but only $61.50 at the 25 per cent off price. That left me with $16.56 left over. I decided on the spot my next stop would be Polar Package Place, where I would buy Lillian a real nice bottle of Pinot Noir. Well, kind of nice. Drinkable. But hey, maybe they’d have a 25 per cent off sale going on there too . . .

So I headed for the checkout counter. I was third in line. As the lady in first place paid for her stack of items, I saw the clerk, a wonderfully friendly looking middle-aged woman, hand her a coupon that the cash register had spit out and say “And here’s a coupon good for $10 off your next purchase.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought to myself. “Don’t fall for it lady, unless you need a  mixer or a bedspread from over in Home.”

But this customer was no Jim Fuglie. She was a professional. I could tell, when she asked “Anything in the store?”

“Oh, there’s a few things you can’t use it on, listed right here,” she said as she pointed at the bottom of the coupon, the same place on the Penney’s coupon where it said “Home.” “But it’s good for most things.”

They parted company, and the lady in front of me put her things down on the counter. I looked down at Presents B, C and D in my arms and thought maybe, just maybe, I could get away with something. If I only bought Present B, and I indeed got a ten dollars off coupon, maybe I could come back and apply that to items C and D, and save ten bucks. Worth a try, I thought, so I casually walked away and put items C and D back  on the rack, and came back.

And then it’s my turn. I put Present B on the counter, the wonderfully friendly clerk scans the price, $26, with a 25 per cent ($6.50) discount, making it just $19.50, and then she reaches under the counter and pulls out a yellow coupon and says “It’s Friends and Family Week here at Herberger’s, and I just happen to have a Friends and Family coupon, so you get another $10 off! So that’ll be $10.12, with tax.”

No kidding. Present B, $26 on the rack, cost me $9.50 plus 62 cents tax—a total of $10.12. And she wasn’t done. I handed her eleven dollars, and she handed me back 88 cents, and . . .drum roll . . .a coupon for ten dollars off on my next purchase.

Well, I feigned surprise, and said “Well, my wife really likes (Presents C and D). Could I use this for them?”

With a smile that lit up the aisle all the way down to Home, she said “Sure.”  I told her I’d be back in ten minutes.

And away I went. Right back to the racks where Presents C and were waiting, picked them back up, stalled for a couple of minutes so it wouldn’t look like I had this all planned out, and headed back to the checkout. I was second in line. She looked up while she was helping the lady in front of me, saw me and flashed me a smile. And then I was back in front of her. I laid down my presents and the ten dollars off coupon, and I swear this is what happened next.

She picked up Present C, scanned it, and set Present D off to the side a little bit. And she looked up at me and said “We’ll use your ten dollars off coupon on this one,” and she scanned the coupon. So my $28 present C cost me $11. Then she reached over and grabbed Present D, scanned the price, and then  reached under the counter and, I swear,  pulled out another one of those yellow Friends and Family coupons, and said “We’ll use this on this one,” as she scanned the yellow coupon, which gave me another 25 per cent off. So my $28 present D cost me $15.75.  No kidding.

I paid. She gave me some change, and, yep, another coupon for $10 off my next purchase, and said “See you back here in ten minutes!” I smiled back and said “Maybe tomorrow.”

So here’s what happened. I bought Presents B, C and D. The price for the three of them was $82. But they were 25 per cent off, so that came to $61.50. But with the help of the most wonderful store clerk in America, the lady who singlehandedly is going to bankrupt Herberger’s before Christmas, I paid just $38.61, including tax, for Presents B, C and D, including tax.

Am I a good shopper, or what! Together with the $31.94 I paid for Present A (actually way overpriced for a $50 present, I now realize) I spent a total of just $70.55 for four presents whose price was $132! I was so excited I jumped in the car and drove home, forgetting to stop at Polar Package Place. Tomorrow. Lillian, I know you’re reading this. That’s going to be a pretty good bottle of wine after all. And I hope you like your presents. If not, you can take them back and trade them in. I saved the receipts. But you’re not going to get much for them.

One thought on “The Lady Who Bankrupted Herberger’s

  1. Welcome to the “It’s not how much you spend when you shop, it’s how much you save Club” big brother. For years your sisters have been trying to explain how a good day of exhilarating shopping the sales beats any pheasant hunt out in the cold and snow. The only difference between our shopping tactics and your experience today—we would NEVER forget the wine!!! Enjoy!!


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