12 Secrets Target Shoppers Need to Know

target store

Exterior of a Target store | Scott Olson/Getty Images

If you’re like a lot of people, you love Target, but you don’t love what it does to your wallet. Who hasn’t run in to the big box store intending to pick up toilet paper and laundry detergent and walked out an hour later with a cart full of other items you just had to have?

It can be hard resist the siren call of the red bullseye, but shopping at Target doesn’t have to mean spending a lot. Though the chain has a reputation for high prices – it lost to Walmart when we did a head-to-head price comparison – savvy bargain-hunters know how to find deals at the store. By combining store sales, coupons, clearance discounts, and other savings tricks, it’s possible to indulge in your Target addiction without going broke.

A quick internet search reveals dozens of Target savings secrets from bloggers and shopping experts. From knowing the markdown schedule (we’ll get to that in a minute) to maximizing coupons to taking advantage of rain checks when a sale item is sold out, there are literally dozens of ways to save at the store. The problem is keeping track of them all.

To do that, your best bet is to head to Target-specific shopping blog like All Things Target and Totally Target. There, you’ll find rundowns of the weekly ad, tips and tricks, and other advice for making the most of your Target shopping experience. To get you started on your Target savings adventure, we’ve compiled 12 of our favorite secrets to getting the best deal at Target. Happy shopping!

1. There’s a method to the clearance madness

target clearance

Clearance racks at a Target store | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Target deal-hunters need to know when things are typically marked down so they don’t miss out on a bargain. Here’s when different categories of items typically go on clearance at most Target stores, according to Mike Catania, founder of PromotionCode. (Your store might have a slightly different markdown schedule.)

  • Monday: Electronics, accessories, kids’ clothing, books, baby, and stationery
  • Tuesday: Domestics, women’s clothing, pets, and market/food items
  • Wednesday: Men’s clothing, health and beauty, diapers, lawn and garden items, and furniture
  • Thursday: Housewares, lingerie, shoes, toys, sporting goods, decor and luggage
  • Friday: Auto, cosmetics, hardware, and jewelry

Clearanced items can be found all over the store, but the endcaps – the displays at the end of the aisle – are a good place to start looking. Markdowns start at 15% and can go down to 90% off for seasonal items (discounts on regular items stop at 70% off). Check the upper-right corner of the price tag to see how much an item has been discounted. If you see the number “15” or “30” and are a gambler, you might want to wait for a further discount.

2. January and July is the best time to shop for toys

target shopper

Toys for sale in a Target store | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Target is always discounting old merchandise to make room for the new, but sometimes, the store really cleans house. In the toy section, the big clear-outs happen in January and July, according to All Things Target. Sometime in mid-January and again at the end of July, the store will discount last season’s toys to 70%. The markdown should happen on the day your store normally starts toy discounts. For most shoppers, that will be Thursday.

3. The Black Friday deals are among the best

black friday target

Black Friday at Target | Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, shoppers descend on stores hoping to snag great deals on holiday gifts. Some of the best Black Friday bargains around are at Target. The same goes for Cyber Monday.

“Every year, Target is one of our top five stores for Black Friday deals,” Benjamin Glaser, features editor with DealNews, said. “Interestingly, unlike Amazon and Walmart, Target also makes the list for the best deals of Cyber Monday. It should definitely be one of your first stops for apparel, electronics, and appliance deals during the whole two-week period surrounding Thanksgiving.”

4. You don’t need to apply for a credit card to get RedCard savings

target store entrance

A sign advertising Target’s RedCard | Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

You may already know that shoppers with a Target RedCard save 5% on all their Target purchases. But a 23.15% APR makes the RedCard risky for all but the most responsible shoppers.

“The APR on the Target Red Card makes it an incredibly poor choice unless you’re prepared to pay the balance off in full each month and don’t have reservations about how Target collects your shopping data based on its use,” Catania said. “That said, it’s particularly handy for big-ticket items around the holidays to get free shipping or for already-heavily-marked-down items as the 5% flat discount applies to just about everything.”

Fortunately, there’s a way to get that 5% discount without running the risk of getting into debt. Target also has a RedCard debit card that links directly to your bank account. You still have to be willing to let Target collect data on your shopping habits, but there’s no chance you’ll end up paying interest on those discounted housewares you couldn’t pass up.

5. You don’t need the app to save with Cartwheel

target shopping cart

Target shopping carts | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Sure, you’ve heard about Target’s Cartwheel app, which gives you access to special coupons and discounts. What you may not know is that it’s possible to get those savings even if you don’t have a smartphone. All you have to do is go online, create an account, and add offers. Then, print out your barcode and take it with you when you shop. At checkout, the clerk will scan your code, and you’ll get the discount. And because your barcode never changes, you only need to print it out once to save big.

6. You can stack deals to create big savings

target cart

A Target shopping cart | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

One of the best ways to save when shopping at Target is to stack offers. “I maximize my savings using sales, a manufacturer coupon, Cartwheel, and a Target coupon,” Fatima Ward-Johnson, a mother of five who lives in Chicago and shops at Target several times a week, told The Cheat Sheet. If you have a RedCard you can also add that to your savings stack.

Of course, keeping track of coupons and finding the best deals can be a bit of headache. Sites like Totally Target and All Things Target will help you find the best coupon match-ups.

7. Free gifts make shopping even sweeter

A man holding a gift

A man holding a gift | iStock.com

A discount is great, but sometimes, Target will actually give you stuff for shopping there. The most common deals involve free gift cards with purchase. At the time of this writing, you could get a $10 gift card when you buy two boxes of diapers, or a $5 gift card when you buy $15 worth of personal or skin care items, and those were just two of dozens of similar offers.

In addition to gift cards, you can sometimes score other freebies. “Purchase when it’s possible to get a free gift with purchase. Last month, Target offered a free beauty sampler box with a $30 beauty purchase,” Alyce Green of Makeup Bonuses said. When you create a baby registry, you can stop by the guest services counter and pick up a bag of coupons and samples.

Gift card offers change frequently. The current promotions are listed on Target’s website.

8. You can almost always save $5 off a $50 purchase

$5 bill

A $5 bill | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Not all Target discounts are well-publicized, and a quick search of deal sites like PromotionCode or RetailMeNot can turn up additional savings. “Target runs an online offer of $5 off $50 purchases almost year-round with relatively few limitations that is not available in-store or publicized in their mailers,” Catania said.

9. If you use outside apps, you’ll save even more

Woman wearing orange shirt texting on the smart phone

A woman using her smartphone | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

Pairing exclusive Target deals with additional rewards from outside apps has the potential to magnify your savings. Shopkick will reward you with “Kicks” just for visiting Target (and other stores), scanning items (even if you don’t buy them), and uploading your receipts. You can redeem Kicks for gift cards, including Target gift cards. With Ibotta, you unlock rebate deals by performing simple tasks, shopping, and then uploading your receipt to earn cash back.

10. Target price matches most big chains

target checkout

Target checkout | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Unfortunately, Target doesn’t have an app like Walmart’s Savings Catcher, where you can upload your receipts and receive a gift card if the app finds the items you bought on sale somewhere else for a lower price. But Target does do price matching. If you find a cheaper price for an item at a competitor – including big competitors like Amazon, Costco, and Sam’s Club — just bring in the ad and show it to the clerk to get the same price at Target. If you’ve already bought the item, you can request a price adjustment at guest services within 14 days of purchase. In addition to local competitors, Target will match prices at more than a dozen big online stores.

11. You can get gift cards for your old electronics

Woman holding a smartphone

Woman holding a smartphone | iStock.com/velvelvel

Do you have an old phone, tablet, or other gadget that’s gathering dust? Take it to your local Target and trade it in for a gift card. You can get your device appraised online, ship it for free, and receive a gift card in return. Or, you may be able to drop it off at a local Target store. (Not all Targets participate in the trade-in program, so be sure to check online before you go.) You can get as much as $65 for a working LG G4 with a charger or $23 for a Garmin Approach S5 smartwatch with all its accessories.

12. Goodwill gets Target’s castoffs


Goodwill | Goodwill Industries of San Diego County via Facebook

To get great deals on Target products, you might want to head to a completely different store. If clearance items don’t sell at Target, they sometimes end up at Goodwill. You’ll need to check out the racks at your local thrift stores or talk to the staff to find out if they sell “new” items from Target.

“There are a variety of ways we address unsold product, including donations, liquidating to third parties, recycling and, when necessary, disposal,” a Target spokesperson told Racked in 2014. “Goodwill is one of many partners that acquire Target merchandise as part of this process.”

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