I consider myself a savvy shopper. By no means am I one of those crazed coupon extremists, but I do love me a good bargain. Some call it being cheap or frugal. I consider it just plain common sense. Why pay more for something when you don’t have to? Sure there are times when I will pay more than I might want to for an item because I need it right away or because it’s what will work the best, but overall I generally refuse to pay for convenience when it’s unnecessary. However, I’m logical about the choice.
Just today I purchased yogurt at the grocery store during my lunch hour for .20 more than it sells for at the commissary. Why? Because in order to go to the commissary I’d have to rearrange my schedule to fit their less user-friendly hours and drive out of my way when I don’t have any other reason to go to that area. So in the end the extra time, gas and hassle aren’t worth the .20/yogurt I’d save. Now if I’d save enough to almost get them for free, I might reconsider.
Without doubt, I learned my thrifty ways from my parents, who found every way to stretch a dollar both at home and in their business. Unfortunately, not everyone has had that type of an example. For some the only experience they have with saving money is watching some unrealistic ‘reality’ show or a period when money was tight and they were forced to comparison shop to meet their needs. Neither of those tend to create a lasting desire to shop smart. But imagine what might happen to our country’s economy if more people adopted a thrifty mind-set or better yet if our government did! Now I know that’s a pipe dream, but at least it’s a good one.
So although I don’t think it will change the course of our nation’s economic turmoils, I’ve decided to share my top tips on bargain shopping for those who might just be dipping their toes into the money saving pool.
- Make a list. I rarely go any store without a list, even when I’m running in for a few quick items. Why? Because having a list keeps me focused so I end up leaving with the items I came for and less additional items. Preparing a list ahead of time also allows me to pull coupons I might have for the items I plan to purchase so I don’t forget to take or use them.
- Stop and think about each purchase before making it. Ask yourself, do I really need this or is this an impulse? If you really do need the item, is there a better priced option available without consequences (reduced quality, additional time or effort required, etc.)? It sounds simple and it really is. Sometimes just taking a moment to consider why you are purchasing something will make you realize how that purchase will affect your budget and other needs.
- Comparison shop. In today’s marketplace there are multiple options for almost any item we would buy. I’m not just talking about choosing a store brand over a name brand. I compare coupon values and store sales. Although I might have a coupon for one brand doesn’t mean that’s the one I should buy. I often find that the price after a coupon is still higher than the sale price of a comparable item from a different brand. Or a coupon might require that I purchase multiples of an item that I know will go to waste, costing me more in the long run. So break out the calculator on your smart phone or carry a pocket version with you and figure out which is the best option.
- Learn to use rewards, because it’s like getting paid to shop. If a store I shop at often offers a reward program I’m using it because honestly, this is where I save the most. One of my favorites is fuel points for each dollar spent at a company’s retail store, earning up to $1/gallon discount when you purchase fuel from their gas stations. I also earn rewards on my credit cards which can be redeemed for gift cards, often for $5-10 more in value than the amount I’m redeeming – which is perfect for gift giving or choosing cards at retailers where I shop often for additional value. Some of my ‘store’ credit cards offer 0% interest on some purchases or earn me reward certificates for a certain dollar amount each time I spend a specified amount. Of course the goal of their program is to get you back into the store to buy more, but if you use tip #2 you won’t fall into that trap. I often make purchases on a particular account because it offers me a reward that paying with another method doesn’t. That doesn’t mean you should sign up for every card you hear about. Weigh the value of the rewards offered and decide if it’s a good fit for your shopping habits, budget and credit.
- If you really love something, buy it. I’m talking about shopping smart. Sure that often means saving money, but if you truly love an item and will enjoy it in your life for years to come it’s worth the investment and that makes it a smart purchase. I used to pass over an item I really liked because of the price tag, only to purchase a less expensive item which either didn’t last as long or I didn’t like as much and ended up replacing soon thereafter often compiling the cost to be more than the initial item I wanted. Instead, if I purchase something that makes me smile every time I see it I got a bargain.
Of course there are other tips out there like asking retailers to price match, purchasing certain items at certain times of the year (Google it for the specifics), avoiding known over-priced convenience items like these and buying annual items at the end of a season when stores are closing out inventories. But these 5 are my basic methods for saving money without a lot of effort. I hope they help you become a smart shopper or improve on your budding thrifty skills.