Although we shop all the time — spending as much as 54 minutes a day buying stuff, according to a government estimate — many of us really aren't good at it. We waste money on impulse buys, we miss good deals (and fall for bad ones) and we buy way more than we need.
If you're just walking into a store and buying without being strategic, you're missing a great chance to save some cash. Here are 10 secrets of smart shopping to help you cut costs on just about everything.
1. Never shop when you're hungry
Going anywhere while craving food will make you spend more. How much more? Hungry shoppers spent up to 60% more in a department store on non-food products than non-hungry shoppers, the Smithsonian reported.
"Hunger is a primal human urge that drives us to find, acquire and consume food to meet our caloric needs," the Smithsonian wrote. The hunger you feel "creates an acquisitive mindset that encourages people to get more stuff in general — no matter if it is offered for free or carrying a price tag."
So, before you shop — even online — have a meal or a snack. No sense buying items you don't really need just because you're craving a cookie.
2. Know where to get the best deals
Smart shoppers always know where to get the best deals. For example, drug stores often have better sale prices on things like cereal, eggs, dairy products, makeup, toothbrushes and toothpaste than grocery stores or even bulk-buy stores like Costco, according to Money Talks News.
Big-box stores like Costco, Walmart and Sam's Club are often cheaper for furniture and electronics, although you won't get the selection specialty stores provide. And when it comes to buying clothes, outlet malls aren't the deals they seem when you end up with lower-quality products that don't last.
3. Understand sales cycles
Sales occur on a schedule. For example, grocery stores often try to rotate stock every six to 12 weeks and put items on sale to move old stuff out. Know that your favorite brand of peanut butter goes on sale every six weeks? Stock up when it's discounted, then sit tight until the price drops again.
Almost every store has a cycle for sales, so watch for a pattern wherever you shop or ask sales staff. Bed, Bath and Beyond usually replenishes their clearance items over the weekend so looking early in the week is best, Good Housekeeping reported. Business Insider also has a guide to Target's unofficial markdown schedule.
Watch store fliers for the sale cycle. Once you know how often items go on sale, buy enough items at the sale price to get you through until the next sale comes along. Do you use one jar of pasta sauce per week and the sauce goes on sale every six weeks? Next time there's a sale, buy six jars.
4. Shop the seasons
One thing you can count on: Stores put seasonal items on sale at the end of each season. If you buy summer clothes in September and holiday decor in January, you can save a lot.
Try to time other big purchases to specific days or months when those items are most likely to be marked down. Check out this monthly guide to find out the best time to buy TVs, cars, furniture and more at discount prices.
5. Don't get tricked
Stores want you to spend money — and they use tricks to get you to spend more. Common ones include putting more expensive items at eye level and sticking frequently purchased items in the back of the store so you have to walk through the whole place and see everything else you could buy before you grab that gallon of milk.
Don't fall for these tricks.
One way your grocery store gets you to overbuy: listing prices as if you have to buy two of something to get a deal. "Two OJs for $4," the sign says... and you dutifully put two cartons of orange juice into your shopping cart even though you only need one.
Truth time: You don't have to buy two juices to get the deal. In almost all cases, you'll get the sale price even if you only buy one. So, go ahead. Defy the sign.
6. Be smart about buying used
What should you buy used? Bicycles, textbooks, clothing and toys for kids, cars, appliances for your house, wedding or designer clothes, DVDs and jewelry are among the items Business Insider reported. Sports equipment, maternity clothing, tools and musical instruments all make Time's list. Basically, anything that doesn't put you at risk of bringing bedbugs home (and that doesn't gross you out), you should try to buy used first.
Craigslist, eBay, local classified ads and community newspapers are good places to look for used items. Before you buy, check for recalls on applicable items like appliances on the Consumer Product Safety Commission site.
7. Learn to use a needle and thread
Clothes often end up on the discount or clearance rack because the fit is off or there's an issue like a missing button. Consignment stores and thrift stores also have slightly damaged designer clothes that people don't want anymore.
Once you learn, if you find a damaged item in a store that you can fix, don't be afraid to ask for an extra discount.
8. Be a couponer — no scissors required
Whether you're hitting the mall or the grocery store, check for coupons before you leave home. For food and household products like toothpaste, laundry detergent and frozen food items, you can actually buy newspaper coupons pre-clipped from websites like Klip to Save. Coupons cost a few cents (like 8 cents for $1 off Crest Mouthwash) and shipping costs a flat rate of $1.
Search for coupons for items you plan to purchase and buy a bunch of coupons for less than the cost of a Sunday paper. You don't have to waste time clipping coupons and you can make sure you're getting coupons for products you'd buy anyway. RetailMeNot is one of many online sites where you can find coupons for online stores and in-store coupons you can print out and use in places like Dick's Sporting Goods and Bed Bath and Beyond. You can also just Google search "Store Name + Coupon."
It only takes a second to see if you can find a coupon that offers big savings.
9. Buy discount gift cards (for yourself)
Believe it or not, you can actually buy gift cards for less than face value at places like Gift Card Granny, CardHub and GiftCards.com. eBay sellers also sell gift cards at a discount and as do stores like Costco and Sam's Club.
Check the feedback of any eBay seller and reviews of any website you buy from and find out what protections you have in case of a problem with the card.
Many stores also offer promotions around the holidays that allow you a bonus for buying a gift card. You may get a free $25 if you buy $100 worth of gift cards. If a store or restaurant you spend money at all the time is offering a deal, buy gift cards for yourself and take advantage of the bonus offer.
Want a double deal? Pay with a discounted gift card AND use a coupon, even if the coupon can't be combined with other promotional offers.
10. Know when — and how — to negotiate
Just because something has a price tag on it, that doesn't mean you should pay that price. There are lots of situations where it pays to try to negotiate.
So, when can you ask for a deal? Whenever you're buying used or purchasing from an individual, try to get the price down. Negotiating is actually expected for furniture and cars, and you'll overpay if you don't haggle.
You should also negotiate whenever you're buying floor models or damaged items. Even Target, Walmart, Best Buy and department stores will negotiate on these types of transactions, according to Wise Bread.
To negotiate effectively, ask for the manager, point out the problems and suggest a price. You'll have better results if your offer is in line with going rates.
You should also know store policies on price-matching and be prepared to show you've found the item for a lower price elsewhere. Most stores will meet or beat competitor pricing, so you could save a lot just by showing a competing ad.
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