As Target continues to increase the number of sustainable products it carries, it’s become an increasingly attractive place for me to spend money. There's still the temptation to overspend there, though, because whoever does the product placement really knows how to draw consumers in. Other stores do this, too, but Target seems especially skilled at enticing shoppers to put things in their carts that they didn’t intend to buy.

The Huffington Post has a piece in its comedy section about 10 ways Target is robbing you, and I found both funny and true. It starts out like this:

I spend so much in Target, sometimes I look at my bank statement and think, someone stole my ATM card.

Then I realize, Oh, shit. That was actually just me, three times last week.

The author goes on to talk about 10 specific spots in the store that draw you in, like the Starbucks when you first walk in or the dollar section where most of the desirable items cost $3. Obviously, Target isn’t robbing anyone; the store is merely counting on a shopper’s lack of self-control.

I don’t have a magical plan to avoid impulse buying, but I do have a plan for saving money by using all the tools that the store provides. There are several of them, and you can combine all of them for optimum savings. Here's how:

The Cartwheel app

If you have a mobile device, Target’s Cartwheel App can save you money every time you’re in the store. Each week there are hundreds of coupons on the app for 5 to 50 percent off items from all sections in the store. You can search categories and add up to 12 coupons per shopping trip. To use the coupons, a barcode is scanned from your app.

Because there are hundreds of coupons each week, I find the smartest strategy for using the Cartwheel app is to scan items I want to buy before I put them into my cart. The app will check to see if there's a coupon available. This way, I’m not allowing the coupons to influence my buying. I’m buying what’s on my list, and seeing if I can get any extra savings. If I searched the coupons first, I’d be tempted to buy things just because they’re discounted.

Target’s mobile coupons

You can receive mobile coupons through your mobile device via text or you can receive them through the store app. I don’t use the Target store app (it’s different from the Cartwheel app), so I get my mobile coupons through text messaging. Every two weeks or so, I receive a text with about five to 10 coupons. They’re often for store brand items like Up & Up, Simply Balanced or Market Pantry, but sometimes they’re for other brands, too.

To use these coupons, present your mobile device at check out and have the cashier scan the bar codes. To use both the mobile coupons and Cartwheel, you’ll need to switch from one bar code to the other at checkout.

Target’s printable online coupons

Each month, when I do a natural and organic coupon roundup, I include Target's online coupons, which include not only food, but also for many other items in the store. These can be used in conjunction with manufacturer coupons and Cartwheel coupons, according to Target’s coupon policy.

Target REDcard

If you have a REDcard, you get 5 percent off all your purchases at Target in store and online (some exclusions — like gift cards — apply), 30 extra days to return items, and free shipping from Target.com. The store offers two types of REDcards — a credit card and a debit card. The credit card works like a traditional credit card, and you need to apply for it.

The debit card links directly to your bank account, and takes the money right out at time of sale. (This is the type of REDcard I have.) Every time I shop there, an extra 5 percent is taken off my total, after all the other discount methods have been applied.

Additionally, whether you have a debit or credit card, Target will donate 1 percent of your in store or online REDcard purchases to the school of your choice, as long as the school is registered with Target.

Other ways to save at Target

There are a few other tips that I use to save even more, though.

  • Comb through Target’s circular for items that offer gift cards with purchase. The company frequently offers gift cards of varying amounts if you purchase a certain amount of an item. These often include baby items, pet food and beauty/health products, but it can be anything. There are also gift cards on big-ticket electronic and tech items. You can usually get these gift cards even if you’ve used coupons and other discount methods to purchase the product. I watch for a $5 gift card tied to the purchase of $15 worth of a brand of cat food. I stock up on the food, using coupons and other discounts if possible, and then I pocket the $5 gift card for a future purchase.
  • Check out the sales racks and shelves for items and scan them to see if there’s a Cartwheel coupon for them. This can be risky because you could end up with an impulse buy. I’m in the process of redecorating the master bedroom, and I found organic cotton bed sheets on the sale shelf that are perfect for the new look. They were marked down to $34, there was a Cartwheel coupon for all bedding, and I received the additional 5 percent REDcard discount. I believe the sheets were a little less than $29 by the time it was all done. The sheets were an unexpected purchase that day, but not an impulse buy because I had planned on buying new sheets anyway.
It can be easy to walk out of Target feeling like you’ve been robbed — I’ve certainly had that feeling. But, if you can curb your impulse buying and take advantage of all the tools the store offers, you’ll feel differently. You’ll feel like a smart shopper who just got some great deals and stuck to your budget.

Am I missing any tips or tricks for saving money at Target? Add your strategies in the comments, please.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.