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For many bargain hunters, Kohl's is a favorite destination for brand-name apparel, shoes and household items for less. It isn't the retailer's sale prices alone that are the draw — it's the opportunity to combine sale and clearance prices with percentage-off discounts and a host of other offers.

On a recent trip to Kohl's, for example, I was able to get a pair of Nike running shoes for $6.32 that originally were priced at $85.

But all the effort it took to pay that little for the shoes can be a hassle. That's why I have been eager to check out J.C. Penney's new simplified pricing strategy, an initiative rolled out by the department store chain last month.

Rather than start with inflated prices and offer an array of discounts and promotions that help shoppers push prices down, J.C. Penney has adopted a simpler "Fair and Square" approach that is similar to Walmart's "Everyday (low) Prices" strategy. You can also get special "Monthly Value" discounts, with low-priced clearance deals designated as "Best Prices."

It's quite the turnaround for a retailer that, like Kohl's, is known for heavily advertised weekly sales and the use of coupons and other promotions to get shoppers through the door.

On a recent visit, I found that J.C. Penney largely delivered on its promise of making things simpler. Instead of inflated prices being marked down by 20 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent or more, I found moderately priced merchandise throughout the store.

"Everyday Prices" were designated by a red tag, with items on sale for the month designated by a white tag. On the first and third Fridays of each month, stores mark down items to their lowest or "Best Prices." Those items, with blue tags, are sold while supplies last. Instead of $3.99, the tag read $4 and so on.

It's that simple.

The "Everyday Prices" are OK, the "Monthly Value" prices a bit better, with the monthly sale items offering the deepest discounts. I found racks of items priced as low as $3 to $5 each.

I liked that all the prices were clearly marked — you didn't have to do any math to figure out the bottom line.

But as I walked around the store I couldn't but help feel like a mechanic without a tool box. I was interested in several "Everyday Prices" items but found myself wishing I had a coupon or some offer to take down the price a bit to make it more comparable with sale and clearance prices at other stores.

My only option under J.C. Penney's new pricing system would be to wait until the item is reduced at some point.

Therein lies one advantage for shoppers in stores such as Kohl's. You can use any of a number of tools to create your own sales price. The retailer has a liberal coupon policy, allowing shoppers to use both a percentage-off savings pass and a dollar-off coupon, such as the one worth $10 off a $30 purchase from Thursday's Salt Lake Tribune. There's not a lot of fine print, and coupons and discounts can be used not only on regularly priced items, but those on sale or on clearance.

Sometimes, you'll even get Kohl's Cash — periodic promotions in which you can earn $10 in store credit for each $50 you spend.

That's how I was able to get the Nike running shoes originally priced at $85. They were on clearance for $32, but I shopped on a Saturday when Kohl's was taking an extra 40 percent off, so the price at checkout was only $19.20. I also used both a 15 percent off savings pass and a $10 off coupon — Kohl's allows you to use both on the same purchase — to get the shoes for $6.32.

J.C. Penney's pricing system is nice when you don't want a lot of hassle while your shopping but still want to get a good deal. But if you're trying to stretch your budget as far as it will go — I believe the best deals are at stores such as Kohl's that give you the opportunity to use several money-saving tools.

That said, I think there's room for both types of approaches. During my visit to J.C. Penney and Kohl's, I purchased items my family needs at both stores.

At Kohl's, I got some super-low-priced items from the clearance racks for use next winter. At J.C. Penney, I was able to purchase wardrobe staples for spring and summer priced low enough that I didn't see a compelling reason to wait.

Sometimes it's just nice to get a good price on items your family needs without a lot of effort.

Lesley Mitchell writes One Cheap Chick in daily blog form at Twitter: @cheapchick