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Readers commonly write in to ask questions or offer advice in response to Savvy Shopper articles.

I love hearing from you. This is a grab bag of inquiries posted by Savvy Shopper readers.

Q. My sister in law and I really want to have our Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving this year. We thought a good way to get a jump start would perhaps have a shopping weekend at an outlet mall. I was wondering if you could give us some pointers? I live in Yorktown, she lives in Arlington. Where are the best outlets within driving distance for both of us? Michelene Menapace

A. Outlet shopping has changed its meaning in the past 20 years. Shopping at an outlet used to mean access to deals you couldn’t nab anywhere else. That is no longer the case. However, the experience of shopping many stores in one place is still a girls’ day out that I enjoy. If you have the opportunity to travel to shop, Potomac Mills, near your sister in law may be the answer for you. In addition to being the largest outlet mall in the state, it is also situated near the Mecca of shopping Ikea. I, for one, could do all of my Christmas shopping in that one store (although I may only buy gifts for myself).

Here are some general tips for shopping at an outlet mall. Black Friday, of course, is going to be the busiest day of the year. Try shopping the week before Thanksgiving, or in early November. Retailers are working harder than ever to get the early birds.

Even though you’re in an “outlet,” you should still shop the clearance racks to get the best deals. In a large survey conducted by Consumer Reports, shoppers said the prices were high at Bose, Calvin Klein, Casual Male XL, Gymboree, J. Crew, Levi’s, Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Pottery Barn, Samsonite, and Sunglass Hut outlet stores.

Don’t forget to check out the customer service desk,
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where you can often get extra coupons (sometimes for a small fee).

Q. I went to Walmart at Mercury and Jefferson on my lunch break yesterday. I purchased a few items with coupons. I had two items that were identical and one coupon per item good for $1 off each. The cashier said that since the makeover of their computer system, consumers can no longer use more than one of the same coupon in a transaction. She advised that even if you buy two items that are the same and have a coupon good for each, you can still only use one (coupon). Do you know anything about this? Kristin McManus

A. The policy says there is a limit of one coupon per item, but there is no stated limit on identical coupons, and there is no limit on the number of coupons you can use. That means that you should be able to buy identical products and use coupons on all of those products. I would take in a printed copy of this policy next time you shop and provide it if you run into trouble.

Q. We are looking at getting a Costco or Sam’s membership. It’s just the two of us, so we can’t really justify the membership cost. Sowould we be able to split the membership between two households, and if so, how can you do that? Ashley Dethlefs Shanks

A. Neither club has an official policy regarding splitting memberships, but multiple membership cards are issued. All you need to do is find a willing second member and head to the store to sign up together. Many shoppers report that registering different addresses is no problem.

According to a recent study by the Daily Press, Costco is the cheapest warehouse club in Hampton Roads. Sam’s Club follows in a close second, with BJ’s Wholesale Club trailing behind.

Q. What is the best time of year to buy a dishwasher? Alicia


The Energy Star tax holiday in Virginia takes place Oct. 11 14 this year, and it includes dishwashers that have the “Energy Star” qualification. You will see retailers competing on prices over that weekend, plus you get the 6 percent tax break. Appliances that cost $2,500 or less are eligible, meaning you could save $150 on taxes. Energy Star appliances, however, are usually more expensive.

I have seen large appliance discounts around Black Friday, but they are usually focused refrigerators and washers and dryers.

Q. Since the preschool pass expires Sept. 3 this year, will there be any deals for parents who want to take their preschoolers to Busch Gardens during the fall, but do not want to buy a season’s pass, because we want to take advantage of a preschool pass again next spring? Monica Chandler

A. Busch Gardens has not extended its preschool pass this year, although the park has tried that route in recent years. During the fall months, guests can purchase a Fall Fun Pass.

People who purchase the pass can get unlimited admission to the park from Sept. 7 through Oct. 27 for the price of a single day ticket,
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which costs $72. The Fall Fun Card does not include parking and is not valid for Christmas Town.

Papa John’s and Wendy’s restaurants are offering coupons for $7 off a single day admission ticket (or $14 off if the ticket is purchased online). But the coupons cannot be combined with the Fall Fun Card deal.

Q. Looking for a consignment store that would be good for petite “mature” women’s clothing and shoes. Any suggestions? Becky Sterling