A little planning before you hit the stores can help you score the best prices on every item on your shopping list — and even save you time making those shopping rounds. So whether you’re chasing seasonal sales or need to buy a gift, make sure you’re not guilty of making some costly shopping mistakes.
Last updated: June 24, 2021
Neglecting Price Adjustment Benefits
If your most-purchased items always seem to go on sale a few weeks after you buy them, you could be spending much more than you should and eating up your spending budget faster than you think.
What to do: Check your credit card benefits to see if you automatically qualify for price adjustments. Some retailers also offer a price match guarantee or price adjustment policy where you can get a refund for the difference when you provide proof of a sales price elsewhere within a certain time frame.
Not Following Retailers on Social Media
Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert for RetailMeNot, recommends following retailers on social media. Also, sign up for some retailers’ email newsletters.
Ignoring Facebook and Twitter updates means you could miss out on coupon codes or links to special offers. Newsletters for first-time shoppers might include a one-time discount.
What to do: “If you are not inclined to go out of your way to research deals before you shop, follow your favorite retailers on social media so you can see what sales they are having before you go to the store,” she said. “Additionally, sometimes they will post special sales and offers exclusively for their followers. After the holiday season, you can unfollow the accounts and unsubscribe from their newsletters to cut back on spam to your feed and inbox.”
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Ignoring Store Flyers
To help you save money on groceries, grocery stores have dozens of in-store specials every week and usually print them up in a flyer that sits near the entrance. You can also find store flyers in the weekly newspaper or inserted into weekly local circulars. It’s easy to miss these if you aren’t paying attention.
What to do: Get into the habit of going through weekly flyers in the newspaper or circulars so you know what’s on sale and when. You might also find digital versions of the flyers on your grocery stores’ websites or access them through the stores’ apps.
Buying More To Save More
When stores are running buy-one-get-one-free specials or bulk pricing on certain items, it’s tempting to jump in line to stock up on extras. However, buying more doesn’t necessarily save you more — especially if you never end up using the item or you’re buying perishable items that go stale before the expiration date.
What to do: Check the store’s offer details to see if you can get individual items at a discount regardless of quantity. Some stores might offer a lower price on single items so you’re not required to buy more just to save.
It’s always a good idea to check expiration dates and really decide whether you will really use the item a few weeks or months from now.
Overlooking the Return Policy
When you finally make the decision to buy a coveted item, it’s easy to forget to read the return policy just in case you end up changing your mind. However, doing so could mean the store won’t honor your return by giving you a refund or store credit.
What to do: Always do a quick scan of a store’s return policy so you know what to expect in the event you do have buyer’s remorse. Remember that some stores and online retailers only have a 14-day return policy, so you might need to accommodate for return shipping time and other factors. Also, review which stores have the best return policies.
Buying ‘Final Sale’ Items
Those deep discounts on final sale items can be hard to pass up. But there’s one big caveat when shopping the clearance racks — you can’t return them if they don’t fit or if you change your mind.
What to do: Insist on jumping into the dressing room for a quick try-on so you aren’t buying something you’ll never wear. Avoid the temptation of buying something that might fit when you lose a few pounds or when you have an event to go to — it might never happen and you’ll be left with items that end up collecting dust in the closet.
Skipping the Research Stage
Not doing their research is a big mistake shoppers make, said Skirboll. “Without doing research, shoppers are not fully informed on who has the best deals/sales and can end up buying products for more than what they have to spend,” she said.
What to do: Whether you’re buying a new toaster or a new pair of shoes, take some time to explore all your options and available deals so you can get the best price. You can use shopping comparison apps such as ShopSavvy to scan barcodes while you shop or Price.com to discover the best deals in different shopping categories in real time.
Forgetting To Check Store Apps
From Target to Amazon, many popular retailers have their own apps to make browsing, finding deals and purchasing as easy as a few screen swipes and taps. You might even be able to claim in-app offers and deals that you can’t find in flyers or online.
What to do: Take inventory of all available apps at your most-visited retailers, and make sure they’re installed on your phone. Remind yourself to bring up any coupon codes or bar codes at the checkout lane so you can get the best price.
Ignoring Cash-Back Deals
Many cash-back sites offer exclusive deals at popular retailers and put cash in your pocket shortly after verifying your purchases. You can save every time you shop just by claiming offers and using the website or app to shop for everything, from clothes and electronics to groceries and household items.
What to do: Sign up for a cash-back deals site with high payouts, and bookmark it so you can shop through the site with little effort. Sites such as Honey can be installed on your browser to track deals as you shop. Alternatively, download an app that lets you keep track of the latest offers and make purchases directly.
Shopping Without a Budget
One of the costly mistakes shoppers make is hitting the stores without a budget in hand. “This causes them to lose track of what they have spent, and they then overspend,” said Skirboll.
What to do: Even if you’re heading out to splurge with your Christmas bonus or weren’t planning on buying anything on that mall trip, curb the urge to overspend at the next opportunity by working with a budget.
“I recommend purchasing a discount gift card with the amount you intend to spend on holiday gifts and leaving your credit card at home so you’re not tempted to overspend,” says Skirboll.
Investing In Your Future Wardrobe
It’s easy to convince yourself that sweater will fit you perfectly when you lose those last 10 pounds or that jacket would look great if you just dropped a dress size. However, shopping for your future ideal self can backfire when you don’t end up reaching your goals — and you’ve already spent this year’s clothing budget on next year’s clothes.
What to do: Measure yourself accurately, and only dress for your current size. Don’t buy sizes that are too small in hopes of fitting into them some day or to use as motivation to slim down.
Inadvertently Buying Duplicates
Whether it’s another pair of red and white sneakers or another denim jacket, make sure you’re not making the mistake of buying items that are too similar in style. It’s an easy mistake to make when you tend to gravitate toward certain styles and colors, but you won’t be doing your wardrobe — or your bank account — any favors by buying multiple items that look almost identical.
What to do: Take inventory of your wardrobe and personal items every season so you know what your true wants and needs are. Create a list of items you think you need, then go through your closets and drawers to see if you already have them.
Saying ‘Yes’ to the Store Credit Card Offer
Opening a new credit line at the checkout counter has plenty of appeal when you’re granted an immediate discount on your day’s purchases. However, you could end up paying interest on your balance if you don’t pay in full and end up buying more than you planned just because you know you’re getting a discount.
What to do: Make sure you have a healthy credit score before opening a new credit line so you don’t end up damaging your credit from your retail ventures. Look for alternative ways to get a similar discount, such as coupons, flyers, or newsletter promotional offers so you won’t be tempted to open a credit card account to save money.
Shopping Without a Rewards Card
Whether you’re grocery shopping or buying new shoes, all of your purchases could be earning you cash back or bonus points for a rewards program. Some credit card companies even offer double points and other incentives for making purchases in certain categories.
What to do: Review all the benefits of any rewards credit cards and debit cards you have, or consider applying for a rewards card that you know you’ll use often. Using these cards regularly can earn you cash back on every purchase, a statement credit, airline miles or points that can be redeemed for gift cards and other rewards.
Buying Clothes and Shoes in Season
While it’s fun to shop the latest trends and scoop up the newest fashions from your favorite retailer, buying clothes and shoes as soon as they hit the racks comes at a price. You’ll be paying full price most of the time, or you’ll only be able to get a small discount on the goods when the store runs a sale.
What to do: Don’t chase after trends or the latest season’s lineup unless it’s marked down significantly. Waiting a few weeks or a couple of months means you could see the items you have your eye on now marked down significantly or hitting the clearance racks during off-season sales.