Top 10 Tips for Stretching Your Budget at the Store


Now more than ever, it’s a great time to apply money-saving strategies when you shop. And now more than ever, we’re here to help you make strong financial choices and find a way forward if you’re facing a financial emergency.

Here are 10 of our top tips for making the most of your money when you’re shopping.

1. Do your homework.
Whether you’re considering a big purchase or a small one, do some research. Compare prices and features. A price-comparison tool like RedLaser or Wikibuy can help you with this task. Decide which features you need and which you can live without, and read reviews from other shoppers as well as trusted sources like Consumer Reports.

Mother and son passing time together.

Also try a tool that alerts you when prices drop—or, better yet, refunds you the price difference. Paribus, Earny and Coinfetch are a few of your choices.

2. Reduce your shopping time.
Setting time limits for shopping trips is especially useful if you must go inside a brick-and-mortar store during a coronavirus outbreak. Getting out quickly may help you avoid both germs and impulse buys.

3. Mull it over.
Each time you’re about to make a purchase, ask yourself if you need the item now. Can it wait a few days, a few weeks or a few months? Can you get it for less somewhere else, or is it likely the price will drop soon? Do you need the item at all? Questions like these can help you distinguish immediate needs from not-so-immediate needs and wants.

4. Use cashback tools and rebates.
Shopping online presents many opportunities to use cashback tools such as TopCashback and Rakuten. In many cases, you simply click a button, go to the website you want to browse and make a purchase. The tool logs your purchase and refunds you a percentage of the money you spent. This savings is often loaded onto a gift card, but sometimes you can get cash or a check.

Rebate apps such as Fetch, Ibotta, SavingStar and Checkout 51 use a similar approach. Once you’ve made your shopping list, see if these apps are offering rebates for any of the items you’re seeking. To receive your rebate, you’ll typically need to submit a photo of your receipt.

5. Explore loyalty programs.
See if there’s a loyalty program at your favorite stores. You might receive a discount just for placing an order, or earn a reward after you’ve made a certain number of purchases.

Your credit card may also give you access to special offers at certain retailers. Explore your online account to see if these are available. Just make sure that most of your purchases are items you truly need, especially if money is tight.

6. Think twice about sales.
Sales and other promotions can be a great way to save money. They can also convince you to buy items you don’t need—or that you don’t need right now. Take inventory of what’s on hand at home. Then ask yourself if you’d pay full price for the item you’re seeking. This can help you buy what you truly need, when you need it, and save money in the process.

7. Go generic.
When shopping for groceries and household items, choose store brands rather than national name brands. According to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, you can save an average of 30% by adopting this approach. In many cases, a store-brand item is made at the same facility as the name-brand item. Its packaging just looks a little different.

8. If you don’t need an item, return it right away.
You bought clothing online that doesn’t fit, purchased way more dish soap than you actually need or simply don’t want an item anymore. All of these situations are valid reasons to do a return. Act quickly so you can get your money back and use it for something you really need.

First, check the store’s return policy. Chances are, you can return unwanted items if you purchased them recently and didn’t use them. The sooner you complete a return, the more likely the store will accept it and the sooner you receive your refund. Many stores offer ways to return items online, which can save you a trip to a physical store. Check the store’s website for details, and call the customer service phone number if you need more specifics.

9. Don’t hoard.
Buying in bulk is one strategy for saving money, but don’t go overboard. If you’ve spent half of your budget on toilet paper, that money isn’t available for purchasing other items you need. Plus, case upon case of toilet paper will take months to use, and others need this item as well.

Also check the per-unit price when you’re considering a bulk purchase. Sometimes buying a smaller amount is more economical.

10. Create a splurge fund.
Though it’s important to spend cautiously during times of crisis or uncertainty, feeling deprived can lead to more spending in the long run. When you score a good deal on something you truly need, put the money you saved in a splurge fund. Use this fund to treat yourself to something special from time to time. This can motivate you to keep saving while helping you stick to your budget.

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