I was first introduced to REI three years ago by my outdoor-enthusiast boyfriend. As I pulled on the rowing oar that served as a door handle and entered the store, I was overwhelmed with the experience: An outdoor lover's paradise, indeed! But the high-end brands and expensive gear put a bit of a damper on my shopping plans during the first trip.

Luckily, I've discovered the tricks to saving big at a store that, on the surface, seems to charge a lot. Using these tips to shop at REI, you'll soon be the best-outdoor-outfitted (wo)man on your block—with enough money left over to actually take a trip somewhere!

How to Save at REI

  1. Rethink what you can buy at REI. Sure, a store named "Recreational Equipment, Inc." is bound to carry bikes, kayaks, and sleeping bags, but did you know they also carry snacks, watches, sunscreen, books, fashion accessories, batteries, and pet supplies? Plus they have fun gift items for adults and children from well-known brands like Life is Good and Lego, so don't save a trip there for just a big purchase. I stock-up on Clif and KIND bars in store using their constant "Buy 12, get 20% off" food item promotion.
  2. Become a member. REI operates as a co-op, so its customers are an active part of the company. A lifetime membership costs $20 and entitles the user to 10% back annually on purchases made online or in store. So the cost of a membership pays for itself after $200 worth of purchases. Additionally, members receive bonus coupons, special offers, rental discounts, and more.
  3. Shop the outlet. The online REI outlet is the best of any outdoor store in terms of the steepness of their discounts on big-name products. What's more, their "More Ways to Save" tab online links shoppers to "60% or higher" discounts, "Under $20" deals, overstocks, a "Deal of the Week," and other enticing offers. Explore daily because the best bargains disappear quickly.
  4. Access the Deal-of-the-Day. Each day, REI chooses one item to offer a discount of usually 50% off or greater. Frequently, the items are from popular outdoor brands like Marmot, Patagonia, and Columbia. I recently scored a jacket by The North Face for over 60% off its retail price—and got to choose my color! Warning: Deals will sell out, so check early in the morning for the best availability.
  5. Buy REI-branded merchandise. The company is so certain that its private-line REI merchandise (from apparel to shoes to gear) will perform well that it guarantees them—no receipt required! If you are not satisfied, simply return the product for a full-refund in store or by mailing it to its Washington state returns department. The guarantee is for a lifetime! Read more here. Note: Their REI-branded merchandise sometimes goes on sale, so check ad circulars and online deals for even bigger savings.
  6. Subscribe to GearMail. This free sign-up helps customers get deals delivered electronically. Initial sign-up nets a 15% off coupon, which could be perfect for use on a high-dollar item like a new jogging stroller or a pup tent . . .
  7. Use an online savings code. Check for special codes before placing any order to save more, such as 20% off and free shipping.
  8. Consider a REI Visa credit card. If you envision spending a lot of money at REI (easy to do, right?)—and you have good credit—consider the REI Visa Card. You get rewarded for purchases made in store and online at a rate of 5%, along with a 1% rewards for purchases made everywhere else. There is no annual fee and a $100 bonus gift card promotion is happening right now.
  9. Call customer service. I don't know where REI gets their customer service reps, but they are the friendliest, kindest, most knowledgeable folks on the planet. And so efficient! So if you have a question about a product, want the scoop on an offer, or need to use their "100% satisfaction guarantee" policy, call them. I've always left my telephone conversations with REI employees having any issue resolved immediately.
  10. Get cash back through ebates.com. If you are a current member of ebates.com, you can receive 2.5% cash back for your REI purchases when ordering through their site. And if you are new to ebates.com, you can earn a $10 gift card with your first $25 purchase through their site.
  11. Shop their garage sale. (Yes, you read that correctly!) Once a year, each REI store has a members’ only garage sale where members can contribute gently used items for sale or purchase items returned to the store by other customers. Even clothes and shoes are for sale, neatly arranged in store next to the other regularly-carried items. At this year's garage sale in September, I found some gently used Vibram running shoes that normally sold for $90 for only $14.83! Then, I got a pair of brand new 5-toe running socks to match—for only $2.83 (normally $15)! Most discounts for apparel are this shockingly steep, so it pays to mark this on the calendar every year. Note: My store (in Austin, TX) also offered an additional 30% off their garage sale merchandise after 5 p.m.

So what are you waiting for? Cool gear, healthy snacks, and awesome apparel await!

This is a guest post by Audrey from Texas
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How to Get Real Savings at REI