Since so many of my readers are interested in getting the most out of their purchases and stretching their household budgets, I thought I’d tell you about another program that I’m a part of: A.C. Nielsen’s Homescan program. This program has been around forever, and it helps companies determine what products consumers are buying. If you’re chosen to be a part of the panel, you’ll receive a small handheld scanner, which you’ll then use to scan all of your household purchases. Once a week, you hook the scanner up to your computer and submit your data to Nielsen.

I admit that being an active Homescan member does take a little time. You have to take the time to scan your groceries before you put them away, and scanning non-barcoded items with the reference card can be a little tedious. But the company does reward you with gift points, which you then trade in for prizes. There are also other point-earning opportunities like surveys and special panel memberships. This can help you get your point total up, and help you get your gifts faster. The prizes range from inexpensive water bottles to iPods – and, of course, the more expensive the gift, the more time it’s going to take to earn it. I’m hoping to cash in my points towards the end of the year and buy some toys for my two boys.

Panel membership is limited, and Nielsen only takes a certain number of participants from each geographic area. I do not know if they are currently seeking Homescan families in North Texas. If you are interested in joining Homescan, visit You may be accepted and sent a scanner right away, or you may be placed on a waiting list. When I joined a year ago, I only had to wait about 4 weeks before getting an e-mail that notified me my scanner was on its way.

Good luck, and happy scanning!