6 Ways To Save On (Almost) Everything You Buy

Save on everything you buy

ways to save money

Shopping and saving is like a game to me. A game to get the best value on whatever it is I’m buying. With the advent of the internet, the game got even easier. No longer did I need to run from store to store or call and wait on hold to compare prices. Then came smart phones, which made comparison shopping easier. There are apps for comparison shopping, apps that will scan bar codes and tell you the best price in your area, online shopping apps that take you right to the product, and, of course, the internet to get online and create a great deal while still in the store.

I rarely pay full retail for things. And for those certain items I do pay full retail, well, I often still try to combine it with something to create a better value for me. With such ease of connectivity, it’s pretty easy to save something on almost everything you buy. But whether it’s online, a mailer, or other type of coupon/discount, the ability to save money is all around us.

6 Ways To Save Money On Almost Everything You Buy

1. Plan Ahead – To save the most, planning ahead is often your best bet. Knowing the cycle for the foods you and your family eat will keep you from spending full price. Even if you don’t have a coupon, buying on sale is always a win! Most everyday products are on a 3 month cycle at the store, so a little planning goes a long way. Then, of course, there are holiday and back-to-school sales where you can save on seasonal-type items. Need to replace a kitchen appliance, they often go on sale for Mother’s Day or Memorial Day or President’s Day or … get the idea? Power tools or lawn equipment? Father’s Day, maybe Memorial Day or 4th of July sales. And, of course, for many places the entire store is on sale for “back to school”. If you can wait, chances are you’ll find what you need on sale. Even with travel, there are often deals for people who plan ahead!

2. Google It – Yes, hop online and use your favorite search engine to see if you can find a coupon or promotion code. Even if you’re in a store, a quick online search may reveal a way to save a few bucks. Maybe it says you have to sign up for their newsletter, but if you ask about using a current coupon the associate may be willing to extend the savings to you. Type in the name of the store and the word “coupon” and see what comes up. Some stores use the word “promo” or “promotion” so you may need to check those as well. Usually the SEO is pretty good that either “coupon” or “promo” or “promotion” will return the same results.

3. Use a Price Comparison App – If you’re in the store and you want to see if the price you see is the best price, having a price comparison app can come in very handy. The three I like best are Amazon Price Checker, Red Laser, and Price Grabber. Price comparison apps can often help you find the best deal somewhere else, or even negotiate the current deal at the store you’re at. Sure, most stores don’t negotiate price but there are some items where they may. Especially on big-ticket items, many retailers would rather not lose the sale to a competitor.

4. Shop Where You Are Rewarded – There are certain stores I shop at for items I know don’t go on sale (my favorite Dior Lipstick, for example) because I get points or rewards for shopping. I may not get a dollar savings on that item, but I will get points for free products, discounts on future purchases (when I can then same on my favorite items), or quality sample items. If you’re already going to buy an item regardless of whether it’s on sale, then find a way to add value! This doesn’t apply just to physical products, because restaurants and many service providers reward their repeat clients. Amazon is one of the places where I’m almost always rewarded. There is the convenience factor of not having to pay shipping because I have Amazon Prime and use Subscribe & Save. But, my secret weapon on Amazon has always been Amazon Filler. Long before Amazon Prime I had to get up to $25 to get the free shipping. With Amazon Filler I was almost always able to get free shipping on those items that were in the $23-$25 range. You’d be amazed at what you can get on Amazon for $0.12!

5. Procrastinate – No, I’m not contradicting myself. I know Plan Ahead is on this list. But, let’s be real. We all know there are times we’re rewarded for putting off the buying decision. Travel providers are known for having last minute deals. So if you’re ready for anything, you may be rewarded for waiting around. Bakeries and florists often discount their items before they close, so take advantage of that. Even grocery stores have areas of the store where they discount fresh meats, dairy, and produce that must be used within 24-hours.

6. Ask – Remember when you were a kid and you’d ask for pretty much anything you wanted. Sometimes you got it and sometimes you didn’t. Savings are the same way. If you shop at local stores, and are a frequent customer, maybe the owner will say yes. If you’re making a large order, why not ask for a discount. Are you getting things for your kid’s teacher? Then ask if there is a discount for educators. Naturally, you don’t ask every time. You don’t want to end up being “that customer”. But if you’re strategic about your ask, chances are you’ll be able to save something. Is there a possibility you can barter for what you need? Are you willing to take a floor model for a discount? If you can wait, you can inquire if the item will be going on sale soon and if you buy now is there a price adjustment policy.

It doesn’t matter how much money you make or have in the bank. What matters is how prudently you use that money. Those “millionaire next door” people aren’t throwing money around like a drunk sailor. They’re making savvy buying decisions and spending their money wisely. Being aware of how you’re spending your money doesn’t mean you have to be cheap, only eat beans and rice, or vacation in your backyard.

There are more ways you can save (almost) every time you shop. What are some of your tips?

Sara

Budgeting and Hard Decisions

Budgeting

When you have a growing list of things you want to buy and do, finding the funds is often a constant pursuit. I know how much comes in. I know how much is spent on fixed(ish) things like the mortgage, electric, insurance, cell phones, etc.  I budget a certain amount for food and household items. And then there is the ‘other’ category.

Even writing it makes it seem like a black hole of money. That catch-all category where expenses get put when you don’t want to classify them, are trying to justify the expense or reason that it’s not really an ongoing expense. The other category for me is one of those very large groups of all kinds of random expenses that impact the budget but at the time seem insignificant. It’s the aggregate that is the shocker.

The other category is like going to the dollar store and getting to the checkout and realizing you’ve just spent $50. At the dollar store. On stuff that only costs a dollar. And you think, ‘What did I buy?’. And you reason with yourself that it’s just a dollar. When it’s really $50. And you shake your imaginary fist at the marketing geniuses who have convinced us to think that no matter what we buy our brain says ‘It’s just a dollar.’

So when looking for places you can cut in your budget, one of the first places to look is in that abyss of ‘Other’. Even if they’re uncategorized, just putting them in a category with it’s own description, all by itself, at least it will be there to see. Breaking out all the categories often helps give insight into how much the subcategories really cost.

Instead of ‘Utilities’, break it out.  Look to see what your gas, water, electricity and phone bills are individually. It was because I do this that I caught large increases in our water bill during the summer last year. Sure, I reasoned that we were using more water for landscaping and such but it was so much more that it didn’t make sense. Especially when I found out we had the main sprinklers off. Naturally, I’m not shutting off the water to the house. But it alerted me to what might be a problem. Part of it was that I had been washing a bit more, but as it persisted a few months I began to question is maybe something was wrong. And there was. One of our underground landscaping pipes had come apart. A relatively easy fix, but I’d never have even gone searching for it if I wasn’t focused of narrow categories.

It got me thinking though, where to cut. What are things in the budget I could cut so that I could better save for a cool new bag for my camera or new luggage or for a calling and data plan that will work should be make our trip to Europe this year. One of the first places many people go are to the ‘luxury’ expenses such as cable, cell phones and dining out.

Yes, cutting the luxury expenses is one place to start. But, you need to know what YOUR luxury expenses are. Yours may be different than mine. Cable (well, satellite) is not a luxury for us. CycleGuy and I have discussed this at great length and while we have pared down and made significant changes, giving up cable is not something we’re willing to do. It makes me stay on top of any price changes are out there though. I still have a landline. My grandmother and marketers call it. I could get my grandmother to change. It would take some time, but she’d pick it up quickly. Problem is that my internet and security system have connection to my phone line. It makes me more beholden to the utility, which I hate. I’m working on it though!

Here are 5 tips to help you with your budgeting so you can feel that you’re not the only one making these hard decisions.

1. Identify your luxury expenses

2. Separate out the ‘other’ expenses into real categories

3. Watch for big variances in your usually fixed or almost fixed bills

4. Evaluate by yourself or discuss with your partner about eliminating or reducing rate plans

5. Always leave in a category for “fun”. You must budget in money to do those things you enjoy.

You don’t need a fancy spreadsheet or computer program to create your budget or monitor your expense. The hardest part is actually doing it and keeping track of where the money is going. But once you know where your money is going you can make more informed decision about what gets cut or what is a must stay.

For me, knowing where my money goes has made me a better consumer over the past years. With plastic being so readily used for purchases (regardless of debit or credit), it’s easy to lose track of where the money goes. You don’t ever really see it. Which makes it more challenging. If you’re thinking you want to buy something or go somewhere, consider what your luxury items are and how you can cut spending on some categories so you can make room for your ‘Someday’!

Sara

Needs vs. Wants

Needs and Wants

When it comes to funding all these somedays I have, I really wish I was independently wealthy. It sure would make it easier to go out and do or buy some of the things I want. But the reality is that I am not independently wealthy. I have to plan and save for these things.

There are so many temptations out there. All these daily deal sites that want me to buy their deal because, well, it’s a deal! I could save a lot of money if only I would buy something from them. And sure, many of these are truly great deals. For instance, I love books and so does BabyGirl. So when Groupon had the recent Barnes & Noble deal I got in on it.  I wanted it. I was saving 50%!

But did I need it.  Need it as in it is required for my daily living. I didn’t need to buy the Groupon deal. I wanted to. I wanted to save money that I knew I would end up having to spend. And it’s not often that a deal for a bookstore comes up. Clearly a want, not a need. And, sure I don’t need an iPhone. But because it makes doing business and keep connected with CycleGuy, I have one. For me, the convenience factor is a tradeoff with the cost factor.

I need heat and electricity and internet and food and gas for the car. But I don’t need to go out to eat when I know that it is cheaper and often more healthful to eat at home. Dining out is definitely a want. For me and my family. And even though heat is a need, I’ve decided that with an extra blanket and sweater I could avoid turning the heat on. I need to be comfortable in my home and I’ve found a way to do that without having to turn on the heat. It’s not for everyone, but it works for me an my family.

Budgeting is one way to look at Needs and Wants, and so is finding balance in your life.

We need clothing. We don’t need high-end couture fashion. It’s a matter of choice as to how need is defined when it comes to clothes. For some families, it’s acceptable to purchase pre-owned items. For others, thrift and consignment stores don’t even enter the picture. It’s another example of how need is defined differently for each family.

My friend Heather, whom you met yesterday if you read my Budget Date Night guest post, started a No Spend Month program for the month of February. Heather is already very frugal. She’s a work at home mom to three girls and her husband works in the tech field as well as at home doing the back-end work for Heather’s many websites. With 3 kids, all of whom have food allergies, she’s keenly aware of how wants and needs vary from family to family. Her food budget is seen as high by some, although she has to account for special foods that often don’t go on sale or have coupons. Safe foods are a need for every family. It’s just that for some family those safe foods are very expensive.

In talking with friends and looking at my family budget from last year, I realized that CycleGuy and I have a pretty good grasp on our family budget and overall spending. His living in another state makes things a bit more challenging. For example, coming back to Phoenix is a need for him. And while I miss him dearly, sometimes I see it as a want (especially when I see the airfare). I’ve examined some of my wants and reevaluated them so that we can fit his travel into our budget. We need to make it work for our family.

Schooling is another big category that is part want and part need. Again, it’s a very personal choice for a family to choose private school and say it is a need. Many may disagree, but none of this is for other people to judge. I choose to homeschool. With that comes different expenses and costs than if BabyGirl went to public school. We also see violin and french lessons as a need for her education. The money must come from somewhere, though.

It’s easy to say everything is a need. What it comes down to though is making hard choices. I’m not a music fanatic. CycleGuy is. For me new music from iTunes is a want. For him it’s a need. So we need to come together and find a balance. Heather talks about this, too. Which makes me feel good, because I know it’s not something I deal with alone.

Most, if not all, the things on my Someday List are wants. I’d have to look really closely to find a true need. It doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Each and every one is meaningful in some way to me. But a girl can’t live on needs alone!

Have you taken a close look at where you spend your money? What are your needs and wants?

Sara

Get Ready For Holiday Shopping

Christmas Shop
photo credit: Brian Forbes

Evidently, the holiday shopping season has begun even though it’s the middle of September. Stores by me are already stocking ornaments  and decorative items. And, just as in years past Christmas will be on December 25th. No surprise there! Although, when I’ve been foolish enough to go to the mall on December 24th the last two years (don’t laugh, remember, I’m Jewish and I forget these things!) I’m fairly certain that there are people out shopping who are surprised that Christmas is on the 25th. As if it’s Hanukkah!  Right!

This year Hanukkah begin December 1st, so all my Jewish friends you need to get going! Unfortunately, we’ll miss out on a lot of the deals in the two weeks leading up to Christmas since Hanukkah will be over. However, I’m here to tell you that with just a little planning right now you can take advantage of both time and money savers.

Here are my 10 Tips To Get Ready for Holiday Shopping

1. Get your Holiday Card list in order now. This will allow you know how many cards you’ll need.  Boxed cards will start to appear in stores soon, so if you want the best selection get there early. If you’re doing a picture card you should select that picture or convince your family to dress in their holiday best now so you can get the picture you want so it’s all ready to go.

2. Watch here for holiday card printing deals. They should be starting soon.  But look out for deals on Daily Deal sites like Zulily where from now until 9/17 you can get a gift certificate for $50 worth of personalized cards from Tiny Prints for only $25!

3. Go buy your stamps. There aren’t many options for money savers here but if you belong to a warehouse club like Sams or Costco they often sell stamps for a teensy weensy discount.

4. Put together your shopping list and include the dollar amount you plan to spend. If you know what you want to buy, include that too. The goal here is to plan your shopping budget so that you know how much you’ll need to save or allocate.

5. Start watching the ads and websites for the things you want. You don’t have to buy now unless you know it’s a great price. Just be aware of what the prices are so you can plan. My friend Mara, she blogs at Kosher on a Budget, wrote about stockpiling gifts. She has some great tips!

6. If you’re planning on doing a cookie exchange or making crafty gifts, get your list ready and watch the sales. Craft stores routinely have discount coupons so make sure you take advantage of those money saver items. Grocery stores know that holiday baking will be under way, so get those coupon printed and clipped for butter and shortening and sugar and chocolate morsels. You should be able to get most of your baking needs on sale.

7. If you are traveling for the holidays, make note of those dates on your calendar and mark a ‘STOP’ date so you know you need to have all your shopping done by a certain date. If you don’t have until the last minute, then just adjust your planning calendar.

8. Teacher gifts. I know this is a controversial subject for many but, yes, you do need to get a gift for the teachers. Skip the mugs and the shower gel and just opt for a gift card and a pretty card. If you watch the CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid and Target  deals you may likely find discounts on these too. Worst case scenario is you grab a Starbucks gift card. Even a $5 card is appreciated. If you can not afford a gift, and your child is in elementary school, have your child make a special card of thanks.

9. Start saving money. Christmas and Hanukkah gifts are not an emergency. But just like an emergency fund, you can easily save for these gifts a little at a time. It’s as easy as putting a few bucks a week in an envelope in your dresser drawer. If you skip you daily drink of choice, put those few bucks in the envelope. If you take lunch instead of going out set that aside too. If you have water instead of soda at the restaurant, add that in. These are all small amounts but they can easily add up to a few hundred dollars by mid December. If date night is usually $100 and you find a way to only spend $50 then make the savings real. Same with using coupons. If you would have bought something without using a coupon, if you find a coupon then same that money. It works for online deals too. If you find a code for free shipping then make that ‘free’ part of your savings. Be mindful of what you need to achieve and you can make choices with knowledge!

10. Don’t stress! The holidays are a joyous time. If you can’t spend any money then just enjoy being with friends and family. No matter how crazy or stressed out you get, the holidays will come and go. Make the most of it and create lasting memories. It shouldn’t be about the money and the gifts and the things. Celebrate the reason for the season.

Now, are you ready to take on the holidays?

Sara

Free Downloadable Savings Tracker for 2010

New to couponing?  A veteran couponer who wants to track your savings?  Start the year off with this very cool, easy to use Excel Savings Tracker that you can download for free with compliments of The Coupon Project.  The spreadsheet is all ready to go.  All you have to do is enter the information from your receipts and you’re on your way to achieving your spending and savings goals for 2010.

Sara