There’s nothing quite like the thrill I get when I find a really, really good deal. For me, that’s just about as good as it gets. I can still remember some of the best deals I ever found–$5 for a designer gown worth hundreds at a yard sale, $100 for a brand name reclining sofa on Craigslist that we used for more than a decade, and the best shoes I ever owned marked down to $10 on the clearance rack.
Bargain shopping can save you a lot of money. I know I have saved tens of thousands of dollars over the years by finding bargains and waiting for sales rather than buying at full price. Quite honestly, it’s the only way my family was able to keep our heads (barely) above water financially during those early, building years of my husband’s career while I was working part-time and staying home with little ones. But even now that I don’t need bargains as desperately as I did then, I still enjoy them just as much.
Here are some of my best bargain shopping tips that you can use to save at least $1,000 this year.
1. Always compare prices–including online ones.
My first step when I decide to make a purchase is to search for the item online. By doing this, I can quickly see what major retailers are charging for the item in stores and what price I can get if I order online–either from a major retailer or through eBay or similar sites. Don’t forget to include shipping costs into online prices–it’s not a bargain if the shipping costs eat away all your savings on the item. I also look at how long the item will take to ship–for some items on eBay, it isn’t worthwhile to save a buck or two if the item is going to take a month to get here from China.
2. Do sweat the small stuff–especially with repeat buys.
You might not think it’s worthwhile to bargain shop for small things where your savings might only be a few dollars, but every bit of savings adds up. If you can save $10 a week buying groceries at Walmart instead of the neighborhood grocery store, you will have saved $520 in a year–and Walmart often has the lowest prices on non-grocery staples like cleaning supplies, toiletries and paper products as well.
3. Know when to buy.
Retailers are fairly predictable in many of their discounts, putting some categories of items on sale at a particular time every year. Some of these seasonal sales make sense–grills and gardening products in spring, school supplies and kids’ clothes in July and August, and gift items in December, for instance. Other annual discounts make no sense at all, like mattresses and appliances in September or linens in January.
4. Wait until the end of the season.
Right after a holiday or at the end of a season are other good times to find big mark-downs. It’s not unusual to see discounts of more than 50 percent after the season is over–but these deals won’t last long before they are sold out or the store needs to remove them to make room for other seasonal items. I made it a habit a long time ago to shop end of season sales for items I am likely to need the next year, including clothing, gifts, and holiday-themed items.
5. Shop at the big box stores–carefully.
When you walk into Costco or Sam’s Club, you may be tempted to buy huge amounts of food thinking it will save you money. I shop smart at big box stores with a calculator and information about what a good price is on the items I use. For some reason, I can remember prices on groceries without even trying, but if you can’t, you should keep a list. Even so, you need a calculator, because the sizes (and therefore, the real value of items) are all different.
I can buy a 12-pack of pancake-wrapped sausages for my daughter’s breakfasts at the regular grocery store, but at Sam’s Club, the same item comes in a pack of 20. Figuring out the price per item (or sometimes per ounce) is necessary in order to see if you are getting a better price at the big box store or not–I have found that it’s maybe half and half when I shop.
6. Think outside the box.
I save enough at Sam’s Club each year to pay for my membership buying just one item–allergy medicine. I also love buying clothes there–they sell the leftovers from higher-priced department stores for prices closer to what you’d pay at Walmart, and they also have even better prices at the end of the season–I have gotten numerous pieces for 90 percent off the department store price or more. Being willing to buy items at stores you consider unusual for those items can be a great way to find bargains.
7. Sign up for mailing lists and follow favorite stores on social media.
Most stores with any kind of online presence offer discounts and coupons through either email or social media, and you will miss out if you don’t follow them in some way online. While some retailers will inundate you with emails or notifications, you can sometimes adjust the frequency to only get the stuff you want. I have most advertising emails filtered into a special folder that I check occasionally, or you can get a different email address just for these emails. That will make it easier for you to shop smart at your favorite stores.
8. Get price adjustments.
Most stores have policies that allow customers to get money back if an item goes on sale within a few days of your purchase, and you should take advantage of those policies and get your money back when this happens. There are also some services–Paribus for online purchases and Earny for credit cards–that effortlessly search for price drops and refund your money without you having to do anything. You can also get money back through Ebates or Swagbucks whether items go on sale or not.
9. Buy other people’s mistakes.
You’ve surely bought items that you later decided you didn’t want–for me it was shoes that just weren’t as comfortable as my problem feet demanded. For some items, I will buy other people’s mistakes, usually at a pretty good discount. These items tend to be brand new or in really good condition. One site that offers quality used products is Swappa, which sells electronics at lower prices.
10. Be a late adopter.
If you can wait until a new product has been out in the marketplace for a while, the price will usually come down from the initial release price. This is especially true for electronics and other items that release new versions periodically. The longer you can wait, the lower the price will usually be–until the item becomes vintage, when the price will usually go up again.
Each and every one of these bargain shopping tips can save smart shoppers hundreds of dollars in a year and can add up to $1,000 or more in savings this year (and every year to come). Even if you don’t “need” to save money at this point, you could use the money saved to add to your retirement or vacation fund.
Why pay more than you need to? Paying less is fun and easy.