I’ve been meaning to write this post for a time now, but with all the crafts and DiY projects we were doing, I haven’t had the chance to sit and write it until now. We are moving fast and furious into the holiday season, and that means shopping. Lots and lots of shopping. So the timing of this post couldn’t be better, as our “smart shopping tips” will stay fresh in your mind!
I hope you’ll find these tips helpful for saving some money, not only during the holiday season shopping, but all throughout the year.
When shopping online, don’t buy right away! First, Google the item name to see all your options.
Do you know why sometimes you see an item with different price tags on different websites? You see, for every single goodie out there, there is something called MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) which is set by the manufacturer. It assumes an average wholesale price multiplied by an average retail markup. Depending on the goodie being sold, you almost never have to pay the MSRP. Retail is very competitive, and they usually offer their items below the MSRP. In fact, some go so low that they lose money by selling it to you. Yup, believe it. It’s a retail pricing strategy called “Loss Leader”, which means selling something below cost (at a loss) to attract customers. And depending on the size of the retailer, they may pay more or less than the next guy for their goodies, depending on the size of their order. Then they may mark that goodie up more or less than the next guy. Also, you have to figure in shipping costs and taxes. Considering all of these factors, you can find huge differences in retail prices. But you have to know how to search!
Knowing all this, I almost never buy anything right away, even from my trusted deal websites like Joss & Main, World Market etc. I do a Google search with the name of the item first, because 90% of the time, I manage to find the same thing on another trusted website for much cheaper.
Oh, the item name search didn’t work? Ok, let’s try the Google Image Search then!
This is one trick I’ve been using since I learned how to search Google Images. After moving to USA, I started using the same trick when shopping for home decor items, and I have to say it works like a charm! I’ll explain the super-easy method for the Google Chrome browser and the slightly longer method for Internet Explorer. Here is how I do it:
Let’s say I found this metal angel on Amazon.com, but before buying it I wanted to try my luck and picture-search it.
If I am using Google Chrome for my web browser, I simply right-click on the picture I wish to search (the angel). One of the menu options should read “Search Google for image.” Note: if you don’t see that menu option when right-clicking on an Amazon picture, first left-click the picture (this opens it in a pop-out window) and then right-click. You will then be able to select “Search Google for image.”
If I’m using Internet Explorer for my web browser, while hovering my cursor over the picture, I right-click my mouse and save the picture to my computer.
Within a few seconds, Google Image Search will list all the sites that have similar or the exact picture.
Generally, I try most of the links that get listed within the first 3 pages of the Google Image Search, and I usually end up saving money on the home decor item I wanted to buy.
That said, always make sure the online store you choose to shop from is a decent one. If you are not familiar with the name, always Google the name of the company plus the word “complaint” or “scam” and see what information Google offers you about it.
Some of you may already know what Ebates is, but for those who don’t, let me give you a brief introduction. Ebates is a cashback website that offers coupons and cash back from over 2,000 online retailers. Yes, you read it correct…they give you cash back for each shopping you do on certain online stores.
If you’ve been following any blogs for a time, the chances are you know what affiliate links are and how they work. But in case you didn’t know, let me explain it a bit: on many blogs (including ours) you’ll see some links to Amazon or other online stores where you can find and buy the exact (or similar) product that we used in our blog posts. When you click on those links and do your shopping from that online store, you help that blog earn a little commission or advertisement fee, whatever you would like to name it, which helps the blogger to keep up with blog’s expenses. But that doesn’t mean you spend an extra dime on your shopping. It just means that the online store, let’s say Amazon, pays that blog a little commision out of Amazon’s pocket, as that blog was the advertiser of their product.
Well, Ebates works with the same mentality. When you sign up and use their affiliate links to shop on an online store, Ebates will earn a few bucks due to your shopping through their affiliate links. But the good part is that Ebates will give a percentage of that comission back to you, either via paypal or via what they call “big fat check”, every 3 months.
Do you remember the landscaping stones we bought from Lowe’s for our pond project? Well, we bought them via Ebates’ Lowe’s link and got 1.5% cash back. Besides, we paid it with Lowe’s credit card, so that gave us 5% discount. All these savings equaled the sales tax (6.35% in CT), so it was as if we had no sales tax for that shopping. Cool, right? That is why I love using Ebates and suggest you to check it out.
Don’t throw those coupons in the trash – put them to good use!
Earning money is not a very easy thing. I know it first-hand! For every construction project I worked on, we had to move from country to country, and I have to tell you having a gypsy-like life isn’t easy for a family with kids. Therefore, I don’t like wasting our hard-earned dollars just because I didn’t know how to shop frugally in that new country. I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way, and that is why you always should ask the stores you shop at if they have any discount coupons and how can you sign up to receive them regularly.
If you don’t like dealing with scissors and paper or constantly forgetting to take your coupons with you (which I usually do), then you might want to try Cellfire and Retailmenot. Both are mobile phone apps which generate instant coupons right to your phone and saves you the paperwork.
Here are a few hints for using coupons in certain stores:
- Most craft and hobby stores in America let you use their competitor’s coupons. In other words, you can go to Michaels and use Joann’s coupons for your shopping and vice versa.
- Certain stores (such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, Bed, Bath & Beyond) either have coupons or at the very least they have a price-match policy which is equally good. You can learn about these policies on their websites.
- Certain stores are really good to their customers, such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, and they will even let you use their expired coupons. So don’t throw those old coupons away before trying them! The worst case scenario, they will tell you that your coupon is expired and you won’t be able to use it. But without trying it you won’t know that, right?
- Bed, Bath & Beyond has a moving discount which you may not know of. We were lucky enough to learn about it right before moving to our current home, and I have to say, that was one of the best deals ever! To get that offer, you either need to contact their Customer Services or just sign up here to register your move. Then they will give you a 20% off coupon for your entire purchase. When we learned about this, we contacted the customer service and instead of giving us a coupon, they asked us to bring our receipts dated within the two months period of our move. Then they refunded 20% of that (HUGE) purchase back to our credit card. You can only imagine how much I love Bed, Bath & Beyond’s awesome customer service. 😉
Make use of senior and veteran discounts.
Quite a lot of stores have senior, veteran or military discounts throughout the year. Home Depot (10% veteran discount) and Michaels (10% senior discount) are just a couple of this looong list of stores that give senior and veteran discounts.
You may not be a senior yourself. We are not either! But we sometimes take mom and dad shopping with us, especially when we are about to do a big purchase. Not only do we get the discount, but we also enjoy a family lunch together 🙂
Use those store cards or credit cards to your advantage.
Many stores have their own store cards or store credit cards, and those cards usually have some sort of rewards program or promotions. Now, you may prefer paying cash instead of using a shop card or credit card. I do too, as it helps me stay within our monthly budget! But when I can have a discount just by using that shop card, then I do my shopping with the card, and as soon as I go home, I pay the card off. That way, I don’t have to worry about forgetting the card payment, and yet I still get to have the discount the store offered.
With certain store credit cards, such as Lowe’s card or Home Depot credit card, you can even have 6 months deferred interest financing if you spend more than $299 in one transaction. Now, you may not be buying $299 worth of materials in one shopping trip. We don’t always either. But please hear me out to see how we use our Lowe’s and Home Depot card promotions to our advantage:
When Greg and I decide to undertake a DiY project, we first calculate the approximate cost. If the project cost is above $300, we also consider the following:
- if what we can spare in our monthly budget is not enough to pay it at one go, but we can pay it off within 2 or 3 months time, and the project needs to get done ASAP.
- if we can’t buy everything in one transaction because we can’t fit the materials in our car, so the shopping for the project materials has to be done in multiple shopping trips.
When we run into either of the above issues, we buy a gift card worth a minimum of $299. By doing so, we get to use the 6 months deferred interest promotion which doesn’t stress our monthly budget, and we still get to buy the products in piecemeal and pay for them with the gift card. This method also helps us keeping an eye on the project cost as the money on that gift card becomes the project’s budget.
Occasionally (most holidays), Home Depot will offer even more deferred-interest deals, where you can get up to two years deferred interest if you spend enough.
That said, I always make sure we pay our card off before the promotion ends, so we don’t get charged with a huge interest, because if you mess up and miss even one payment (even if it’s your last), they will hit you with ALL of the interest that you would have paid on the WHOLE purchase price. So use this tip very wisely, and if you aren’t good with credit, stay away!
Don’t take your chances! Instead, take your time to read the product reviews.
If you’re not sure about a product, check online to see if there are any reviews. Amazon.com is a good place to start for reading product reviews. Or just type the product’s name into Google search, followed by ‘review.’ Also make sure that you are reading reviews on a verified purchase, because there is always a chance that a competitor may have placed a bad review or a paid stooge of the company placed a fake positive review, both of which can be misleading.
Make sure you also read all the fine print on an online store or on a receipt.
Ok, here is an important one! I know it really is boring to read fine print which generally has nothing but the usual yada yada yada. But you know what? Some online stores unfortunately have no return policy, and they happen to include their shipping and return policies or anything else that is important in those “yada yada yadas.” Therefore, before you buy anything online, always make sure you read the stores’ shipping and return policies, as well as the fine print. It could save you time, money and a lot of hassle in the long run.
Last but not least…
Remember…candy prices drop back to normal the day after Halloween!
This hint is solely for seasonal decoration. We usually do our seasonal decor shopping right after the season. Since holiday decorations are not a need, buying them right after the holidays helps us get the best deals.
I hope you enjoyed hearing our smart shopping tips. When preparing this post, I didn’t want to go into usual “never shop when you are hungry, angry, upset, or too happy” kind of tips, because our tips are more about how to find good deals and good products and to help you spend less when shopping.
As we always say: “Happiness” and “Knowledge” are two things that grow greater when shared, so if you know other good shopping tips, please share them with us.
Wishing you hassle-free and happy holiday shopping!
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