For some people, shopping is a chore, a necessary evil. For others, it’s one of the most fun activities in the world. However, whether you look at shopping as a blessing or a curse, there’s a simple, important fact you just can’t avoid: you can’t shop without spending money.
What many don’t know, though, is that shopping is one of the biggest everyday opportunities you have to actually save money. Furthermore, the savings from shopping add up quickly and can make a difference to your financial security or overall lifestyle within just a few months if you follow these three important money-saving methods.
1. Set specific goals.
This is a twofold tip: you should set specific goals for saving money while shopping in general and also set specific goals for each individual shopping trip.
Setting Specific Goals for Saving Money while Shopping in General
How much money do you want to save? It’s important to be ambitious yet realistic here. It’s also important to start out armed with information. Look at your receipts from your last grocery store trip and the last time you bought clothing, luggage, or a similar necessity.
Let’s say your last weekly grocery bill was $140. Saying that you’ll cut it to $40 next week is probably a little unrealistic—and even if you do manage it, your health or your tastebuds are sure to take a hit. However, dropping to $100 or $110 each week is ambitious yet realistic. This will also save you close to $4,000 a year!
It’s easy to save $30-50 a week on your grocery bill without making drastic changes. Try one of the following methods:
Eliminate one unhealthy, guilty-pleasure snack from your shopping regimen. This will save you money and make you healthier!
Buy dry and frozen goods, as well as items like medicines and vitamins, in bulk. The bigger packages will obviously cost you more upfront, but the per-unit price is generally much lower. Because these items last a very long time, you can buy several months’ worth at once!
Consider switching from the big name brands to store brands in a few food areas. Breakfast cereals, for example, are pretty much the same quality across the board, but a store brand can be $1-3 cheaper per box.
Even something as small as $30 a week adds up to a good chunk of change over the course of a year.
You should also look at ways to save money on other necessary, fairly regular purchases, such as clothing. It’s a little-known but important fact that spending a bit more money on clothing (I’m not talking Armani suits here, but something better than what’s on the clearance rack at Wal-Mart) can actually save you a ton of money. That’s because quality clothing lasts longer, meaning you won’t have to shell out cash for replacements very often. A $50 dress shirt is worth more than five $10 dress shirts.
Bonus Tip: The idea of buying quality goods as opposed to the cheapest available holds up for other products as well. Unless you can’t possibly afford it, it’s better to buy high-quality non- consumable products such as clothing, electronics, and other items that you’ll use often and where there is a discernable difference in quality between the cheapest products and better versions of the same products. This saves you money because a truly quality product will not need replacing as quickly as a cheaply made one.
Setting Specific Goals for Saving Money on Each Shopping Trip
Setting out on each shopping trip—especially at the grocery store— with specific goals is a good way to save money. Create a detailed list, with brands and prices and other important information already written down, and only buy what is on your list.
Bonus Tip: If you’re an impulse spender, try paying for groceries with cash, and only take enough cash into the store to cover what’s on your list. This involves a bit more work, yes, but it can also save you a ton of money. Remember, a penny saved is a penny earned.
2. Set aside the money you save while shopping.
The biggest mistake ordinary people make when saving a lot of money using a specific method like this is spending it all in another area.
Buying higher-quality clothes and an off-brand breakfast cereal might save you a few hundred dollars, yes, but that doesn’t mean you should go and spend a few hundred dollars in another area.
Set aside all of the money you save while shopping. The easiest way to do this is a traditional savings account, which you probably already have. However, savings accounts don’t pay out huge amounts of interest and leave your money easily accessible—a problem if you’re an impulsive spender.
If you’re interested in saving a great deal, try a certificate of deposit (CD) from your local bank or a low-risk investment like a mutual fund that tracks an index. These aren’t get-rich-quick schemes, but they are easy and low-to-no-risk ways for your money to grow while you’re not using it.
Remember: Don’t put all of your money into an account that you can’t easily access, such as a CD or mutual fund. Leave some in your checking account and some in a traditional savings account so that you can access it in case of an emergency. Even if you’re an impulsive spender, having quick access to a contingency fund can save you a lot of money because in the case of an emergency you won’t have to use credit or suffer overdraft fees.
Generally speaking, the more quickly you can get the money you’ve saved into some kind of investment or savings account, the better. That way, you’ll prevent yourself from spending it unnecessarily.
The one exception to this is paying off debts. As long as you’re sure to leave yourself enough cash to cover all your regular expenses, putting a huge percentage of your disposable income toward paying off debt is as good as or better than saving.
If you have outstanding credit card debt, try putting a third or a half of all the money you save with better shopping habits next month towards that debt. You’d be surprised how quickly you can pay it off by doing this—and how much more money you’ll save in the long run by paying on loans and credit cards before they accrue more interest.
3. Don’t buy anything as soon as it hits the market.
This goes for everything from the latest iPhone to a new shirt from your favorite designer to a movie that just came out on Blu-Ray this week.
There are a few good reasons never to buy anything as soon as it hits the market. First and most important, you don’t likely need it very much. The companies that create and sell these products—especially phones and other electronics—know how much of a factor an item’s newness is in how well it does in the market. This is one of the central tenets of American consumerism.
That means that every time they release a new product, they expect to make a ton of money off of people like you—people who’ve been doing just fine without the product, but want it just because it’s new.
Furthermore, when they stop raking in the cash, they’ll reduce the price. That means an intrepid consumer can get the exact same product much cheaper simply by waiting a month or two.
If you wait just a few months for the new phone from Apple or Samsung, you could save hundreds of dollars. Considering those companies release a phone annually at least, that means you could easily save over a thousand over the next five years.
Picture that – a thousand extra dollars in cash sitting on your coffee table right now.
On top of these savings, you’ll likely save even more money, because you won’t be utilizing credit or signing up for expensive new cell phone service contracts. Credit and service contracts eat at your cash faster than anything short of addiction or being robbed.
Even for smaller items, such as a new shirt or a recreational item like a golf club or Blu-Ray, waiting at least a few weeks will drive the price down and give you a chance to read reviews, assuring you of the actual quality of the product.
When you buy something as soon as it hits the market, you’re essentially purchasing something that hasn’t been tested with the general public yet, and that can be a risk. On top of that, you’re paying much more than you need to.