I was standing at the Walmart checkout, juggling one twin on my hip while trying unsuccessfully to keep the other strapped into the cart, and the cashier had now been staring at me blankly for what seemed like forever. My negative balance had her baffled and numerous attempts to explain the coupon policy were getting us nowhere.

"I can't let you take these items for free." I was tired of arguing, I had sweat rolling down my face, and my 23 pound son felt like a sack of potatoes in my arms. "Fine, just throw these in there." I aimlessly grabbed the cheapest thing within my grasp and ended up paying $0.29 for a package of peanuts no one wanted.

Sound familiar? If you're anything like me, the overage allowance at Walmart has caused as many headaches as it has celebrations. This most recent experience left me racking my brain for an easier solution. I knew there had to be a better way to get the most out of my coupons without a) buying fillers to appease uncertain cashiers or b) pouring through my copy of the coupon policy every. single. time. I shopped.

My husband and I were brainstorming ways around the dilemma without much success. Then it hit us! Negative balances set off alarms in the minds of coupon-fearing store employees. Zero balances, however, are pretty straightforward and have never caused an issue. What if we added the exact amount of our negative balance to a gift card and brought the total to zero?

I wanted to test our solution and headed to our local store armed with a decent supply of $2.00/1 Crest Complete, $6.00/2 Schick disposables, and others. I headed to checkout and tapped my foot nervously. "Um, your balance is -$1.24. I have to call a manager over here to approve this. I don't think she will." "Actually, could you just add $1.24 to my gift card?" "I guess." And, magic! Zero balance, and I was out the door in under five minutes.

This victory started my wheels spinning. Occasionally, I need my overage to cover other items in my order but many times, I am just trying to find little things that I could use rather than items I truly want or need. I realized that I could continue adding my small overages to this same card and let the savings really add up.

My gift card experiment solved so many issues at once. My transaction time has drastically been reduced, I don't reach for items just because, AND I have a simple way of turning small savings into big rewards. After only 6 weeks of this method, I have nearly $30 accumulated on my gift card which I plan to use to pay for Thanksgiving dinner. Next year, our goal is to let the overages add up all year long and use the savings to pay for most (if not all!) of our Christmas presents. Here's to hoping for no policy changes in 2012. Wish me luck! 🙂

This has been a guest post by Jessica from Douglas, MA
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