We all have those friends who seem to consistently land incredible deals — you might say they’ve nailed the strategy for smart shopping. From stacking coupons to negotiating killer discounts, some people excel at scoring rock-bottom prices. The question is, how do they do it?
We asked the experts for their best shopping tips. Click through for insider secrets to help you go from mindless spender to savvy shopper.
Buy Meat in Bulk
With the average American spending more per month on groceries than the combined cost of car payments, household necessities and clothing, according to a recent GOBankingRates survey, it's important to shop smart at the market.
Maggie Unzueta-Vogelmann of Mamá Maggie’s Kitchen, a website that features recipes, knows how to pinch every penny out of her local meat market. Buying a whole chicken is much cheaper than buying just one part of the bird at a time, she said.
“My favorite grocery-buying tip is buying a whole chicken or a large piece of meat and cutting it down,” she said. “When I buy a whole chicken, I cut it into eight pieces — usually the butcher does it for me. They weigh the chicken with the back and gizzards, and then print the price label before they cut up the chicken. So, I always ask them for the backbone for stock and the kidneys for the dog. Might as well get everything you’re paying for.”
Unzueta-Vogelmann also stores the meat she buys in specific ways. By dividing the thighs, wings and breasts into separate bags and freezing them, she’s able to use parts of the chicken for later meals. She even uses the bones to make stock.
“I leave about two cups [of stock] fresh in the fridge and put the rest into ice cube trays in the freezer,” she said.
Double-Check Prices at the Grocery Store
To save money on groceries, whether you're buying extra packages of lunch meat or another jug of juice, make sure you're actually getting your money's worth.
"Stores are notorious for saying something is on sale by slapping a tag on it," said Tracie Fobes, who operates the Penny Pinchin Mom blog. "When shoppers see a sales tag, they assume it is a deal when it often is not."
According to Fobes, some stores might use tactics such as "2 for $3," when the original price is $1.58. "That is only 8 cents off and not really a sale," she said.
Sign Up for the Email List
Many stores still rely on old-fashioned email marketing to promote sales and discounts — especially for first-time subscribers.
“So many companies are now offering big coupons for first-time subscribers," said Jim Wang, founder of personal finance blog Wallet Hacks. "For example, CrateandBarrel.com gives you 10 percent off your purchase when you sign up for [its] email list."
Whether you’re shopping for a new piece of furniture or a set of dishes, you could potentially save hundreds of dollars just by subscribing to retailer emails. Additionally, Wang recommends customers visit their favorite stores’ websites to score pop-up offers.
“If you go to the store’s website and don’t see a pop-up with an offer, perhaps because you closed it last time, open it with your browser’s ‘incognito mode’ and the offer should reappear,” he said. “You can save anywhere from 10 percent to 20 percent on your purchase.”
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Buy Off-Season Items
According to a recent study by The Boutique @ Ogilvy, women spend approximately $75 a month on clothing and accessories. In a development that surprised many, men were found to spend $85 per month on their wardrobes.
Fortunately, consumers of both sexes can slash these numbers just by shopping in the offseason. When demand for seasonal items goes down, prices usually follow and buyers can often find high-quality goods for less.
For example, winter clothing is typically cheapest in the early spring when stores need to make room for new summer merchandise. As a result, April is an ideal time to purchase new coats and boots. On the other hand, swimsuits and shorts tend to go on sale in August. Stock up on these items in late summer for a fraction of the price you’d spend earlier in the year.
Like clothing, home service prices vary by the season. Summer and fall are the most popular times to do home renovations, because the weather is more predictable, according to Home Advisor. While HVAC repairs and home improvements tend to come at a premium during the summer, consumers can score deals by booking service in the winter. Similarly, homeowners should wait until the spring or summer to book popular winter services such as heating inspections and chimney maintenance.
When you shop smart and buy services at the right time of year, you have a better chance of negotiating favorable prices and finding a contractor with the time to devote to your project.
Some people are turned off by the idea of buying used items, but many thrift stores offer gently used, high-quality clothing in clean and organized settings.
"All too often, there are newer items available — even with the tags on," said Fobes. "It can be a treasure trove of clothing deals."
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“I have seen professional men in my town pick up golf shirts like crazy at Goodwill and The Village Thrift," said Kevin Lockett, host of “The Digital Life," a tech diversity podcast. "They know paying $50 for one polo shirt in the mall does not make sense when you could buy 10 to 20 lightly used polos for the same price at a thrift store."
Lockett warns bargain hunters to be patient if they hope to find the best deals. Men, in particular, might have to hunt for deals, as the women’s section often features a broader range of items. Additionally, Lockett suggests buyers evaluate potential purchases with care.
“Make sure to inspect your pants and shirts for holes or marks,” he said. “You might come across a great-looking suit jacket with a small hole at the bottom, or the zipper might stick on a brand-new pair of Dockers. If you have a tailor who can fix things, great. If not, just take your time and search.”
Buy Discounted Gift Cards
Many websites sell gift cards for less than their face values. For example, Cardpool offers up to 35 percent off the face value of gift cards from popular stores such as Home Depot, Target, Walmart and Macy’s. Taking advantage of these deals can save you hundreds of dollars per year on purchases.
Additionally, shoppers can use this strategy to save on dining out. Since the average cost of eating dinner in a restaurant is about $36 per person, according to Zagat's The State of American Dining in 2016 survey, restaurant gift cards can mean serious savings.
In some cases, discounted gift card sites will mail you a physical gift card, but you can also buy printable cards and redemption codes that can be used online. Discounted gift cards can also be found on eBay, but shoppers should watch the tax and shipping charges to make sure they’re getting good deals.
Ask for What You Want
If you’re looking for a great deal, it never hurts to ask for what you want.
Retail expert Mario Serna of Wonder Costumes once interacted with a customer seeking a deep discount. Serna initially turned down the request, as the deal would have left the shop with a small margin. However, when the customer explained that she regularly attended events requiring costumes and planned on being a repeat customer, Serna saw an opportunity.
“Returning customers are what every online retailer craves,” said Serna. “We gave her a personalized coupon code that would guarantee an additional 10 percent discount on top of the existing promotions listed on the website.”
Serna notes that consumers have greater bargaining power if they buy in large quantities or team up with family and friends to get bulk discounts. In some cases, offering to promote the store or brand to your social media circles can help you score a deal. However, customers will likely need to have large social followings to secure these arrangements.
Set Up Price Drop Alerts
Comparison shopping for the best prices can take a lot of time and effort. Fortunately, a number of price-tracking tools exist to help consumers land the best deals.
CamelCamelCamel reveals the price history of Amazon items, so shoppers can see how rates have changed over time. Additionally, users can get email alerts when prices drop below certain amounts.
Another price tracker, PriceZombie, helps you comparison shop and shows price histories from multiple retailers, including Target, IKEA, Home Depot and Amazon. You can even sync PriceZombie to your Amazon Wish List to keep a closer eye on certain products.
Finally, if there’s an item you want to score on Craigslist, you can set up a Google Alert to make sure you know when it goes on sale. While Google Alerts aren’t instantaneous, you will get regular emails when Google matches your search.
Use Social Media
Social media is a fast, easy way to search for discounts from your favorite brands and get the scoop from money-saving experts. Many retailers use Twitter to promote flash sales or temporary offers with limited availability. On the other hand, Facebook is good for finding promotional codes and special offers that are limited to fans who “like” a retailer’s page or fill out a survey.
You can also follow popular money-saving specialists on social media and use hashtags to find more savvy shopping tips. Try following popular hashtags such as #couponing, #couponcommunity, #extremecouponing, #savemoney and #flashsale to see what discounts people are sharing.
Social media is full of smart shopping fanatics who are happy to share their shopping tips and save you the time and hassle of tracking down deals yourself.
Swap Instead of Shop
Sometimes, the best shopping tip is to not shop at all. Instead, consider hosting a clothing swap party.
"Invite your friends over and have wine and snacks," said Fobes. "Everyone brings accessories and clothes they don't want. Everyone gets to shop from one another, and you all go home with new items — while getting to clean out some of your closet."
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