Bargain Shopping 101
Sounds simple, doesn't it? Just look for a deal and make it your mission to come home with the item. It doesn't take long after making the switch from shopaholic to savvy spender to realize there is WAY more to it than that. How much do you buy at one time? How do you balance tying up your liquid cash on the front end to snag a deal with maintaining your monthly savings goals? How much is too much? Where will you store everything? How do you track your rebates and organize your coupons? Arrrggghh!!!!! Don't worry. We've got your back.
(See also: Smart Shopping: Guide to Researching a Purchase)
There are a few general tips. Dress comfortably would be first on my list. For internet shopping, that can basically be your underwear. If you're going out and about however, it would include well-fitting casual wear and some seriously supportive shoes. Next, don't bite off more than you can chew. Taking on too much at once like a gift cabinet, pantry shopping and stocking up on thrift store gift wrapping supplies can leave you feeling cluttered, crowded and overwhelmed. The third main tip is to develop an overall awareness of prices. Some folks advise doing this with a price book. Others don't have as many items they buy on a regular basis, and just keep a general per pound or per item price in their heads.
Yes, there's more to it than this. But you're not going to be biting off more than you can chew, right? In fact, one–three new areas of bargain shopping a month is more than enough for most people. A few classic overview articles from the Wise Bread archives before we get into the main categories of savings strategies:
- Huge Tax-Free Investment Returns
- Frugalize Any Recipe
- Intro to Freezer Savings
- Assembly Cooking for Newbies
- Bulk Buying 101
- Power Shop Your Way to Financial Independence
Now, on to the main categories of saving.
The first thing most people think of when they hear the term “loss leader” is some sort of grocery item. So let's start there. One of the most powerful places to put loss leader sale watching into practice is the meat department. A good rule of thumb for beginners is to look for a 50 percent savings on a meat item you regularly buy. For example, if you normally pay three dollars a pound for boneless/skinless chicken breast and you see a sale for $1.50 a pound, buy the same dollar amount you normally would and set the extra aside in your freezer. This will give you some protein to have in reserve until the next sale comes up. Occasionally, you'll see an even greater sale that will be worth buying an even greater supply of. Once you have a hefty and diverse supply in your freezer of the different meats your family prefers to eat, you really won't have to pay full price ever again.
Grocery stores run these sales on a regular basis in an attempt to get your business. Finding decent meats in the $1-2 a pound range is easy to do if you shop this way. Seafood can run a bit more, but there are still ways to purchase it more affordably. Some meats I've managed to pick up affordably in the past few months? Boneless Angus sirloin for $1.99 a pound, turkey for less than 50 cents a pound, boneless chicken for less than $2, roasters for around 89 cents, and boneless pork sirloin for 99 cents per pound. Other grocery items that tend to fall in the category of loss leaders on a regular basis include fresh produce, baking supplies, dairy products and canned goods.
Here's something important to bear in mind though, folks. These sales don't apply to just food items. Shampoos, deodorants, first aid products and a whole range of personal care items are discounted on a regular basis as well. Cleaning products are also heavily marked down periodically to entice you to try a new brand.
I guess one could technically argue that these should be considered loss leaders as well. And to a certain extent, I agree. From my perspective however, I normally consider loss leaders to be items I see on sale one or more times per month in various stores. Seasonal sales (for the purposes of this article) are ones that occur four times a year max, but generally fall into the once or twice a year category. While some grocery items like canned pumpkin, winter holiday spices, and summer picnic supplies are included here, I mainly want to focus on other things, at least as far as this section is concerned.
Let's take a look at athletic shoes, for example. I consider good foot support to be extremely important. While that can cost a bit more even for just my husband and me, a couple with six children needs to take seasonal sale watching on this product to a whole new level. Sneakers go on sale a few times a year, but one of the best times to snag a great price on them is August. I've seen the really good brands be as much as 80% off at this time. Snagging a deal of this magnitude times eight pairs of athletic footwear can make the difference in some families between either putting nutritious food on the table that week, or even being able to replace necessary clothing items at all.
Post holiday sales are another way I like to keep an eye out for things we buy regularly. Let's take bar items, for example. After Christmas, loads of specialty liquors are marked down to ridiculously low prices. Ditto for clothing, batteries, and solid color gift wrap.
Standard Cheapies That'll Go the Distance
It's fine to fill in with some luxury cheeses and the occasional lobster. But having your pantry, fridge and freezer well stocked with some affordable basics can provide you with a number of backdrops to showcase those higher end ingredients and make them go the distance. It also keeps things flowing nutritiously on the home front if you need to take a break from grocery shopping one week to cover an unexpected emergency.
Basic doesn't have to be boring. A number of cheapskate ingredients offer superior diversity and style. In fact, quite a few have been showcased right here on Wise Bread. Want some inspiration? Check out these posts on:
- canned salmon
- imitation crab meat
- boxed wine
- block mozzarella
- canned pumpkin
- frozen spinach
- chicken leg quarters
- baking soda
- instant and whole potatoes
- canned fruit
- ...and other affordable gourmet ingredients.
More than just a way to save money on medical costs, going generic is a great strategy for saving money on all sorts of things, from ink and art supplies to shampoo and groceries. If clipping coupons isn't in your schedule, or you're just too overwhelmed to keep up with it at any point, switching to generics in general is an easy way to go to save money. Many grocery store chains have their own generic food lines now, including Hannaford and Target. If you haven't considered going this route before, you might be very surprised at the variety of options available to you. Marinades, ice cream, bistro style appetizers, gourmet pasta, organic food items, dairy products and more are available in generic equivalents.
Get Into a Different Gift Giving Zone
Whether by necessity or desire, we all have to come up with gift ideas on a regular basis. There's nothing wrong with being generous, but if you're not careful gift giving can run your budget into the ditch. We actually have several great resources articles right here on Wise Bread to start you off:
- 25 Great Gifts for $5 or Less
- 5 Cool DIY Gift Ideas for Kids
- Budgeting Hack: Gift Calendars
- Giving Gifts That Will Save Money
- 6 Hostess Gift Ideas
- Build a Better Baby Shower
- How to Throw a Kid's Birthday Party
- 4 Green Gifts That Keep on Giving
- Wise Wedding Showers
- Being Generous on a Budget
Coupons and Super Saver Rebate Programs
Some people can't be bothered with coupons. Some swear by them. Others have more of a love-hate relationship. Ditto with rebate programs. It ends up being a deeply personal choice for all of us, based upon lifestyle, personality, and a variety of other issues that are different for everyone. If you've never embraced these things before, chances are you'll have to get your feet wet a bit before you decide if it's really for you. Again, I'm going to recommend you don't bite off more than you can chew. You don't have to be the ultimate coupon queen to implement them successfully into your lifestyle.
I like to think I'm committed to coupon use, but those with multiple binders might not agree with me. The truth is when you don't eat a ton of processed foods, you make your own cleaners, and you make conscious choices about reducing product purchases that come with excess packaging, there aren't a ton of grocery coupons left to use. There are, however, many that can be used for toiletry and pharmaceutical items at department stores and drug store chains such as Walgreens or CVS. Home hardware box stores such as Lowes or Home Depot have overall discount coupons from time to time that add up to big money as well. So do warehouse stores such as Costco or Sams, major craft and fabric store chains, places like Penny's or Sears, and numerous national restaurant chains.
The cool thing about these other types of coupons is they tend to be much easier to keep categorized, and can be used for a wide range of things. It's also easier to release the guilt if you're only paying half the amount when you go out to lunch on grocery shopping day, or for a cheap date. Online coupon codes are great as well, because you don't need to file them and can just research when needed. I guess what I'm saying here is to just be aware that coupon clipping doesn't have to result in this massive collection of paper that drives towards purchasing one type of cereal over another. It can be a precision budget tweaking tool that you custom design to fit your lifestyle and entertainment needs.