From deciding whether or not to put your name on that e-mail list to figuring out if free shipping is really worth it, this guide will have you saving money left and right without batting an eye.
Credit Card Rewards
When you make a serious commitment to smart shopping, having a credit card with a solid rewards program is key. Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance, recommends finding one that’s right for you by “[analyzing your] purchasing habits and [choosing] one that aligns with them.” If you fly enough to justify a frequent flyer card, that one may be right for you. But if you’re looking for more immediate rewards, a cash-back card may be the way to go.
“The Chase Freedom card offers 5 percent cash back on a rotating set of categories including restaurants, certain department stores, gas stations and more, and you get 1 percent cash back on everything else. The Blue Cash Preferred card from American Express offers 6 percent cash back on supermarkets, 3 percent cash bag on gas and 1 percent on everything else,” says Schrage. When shopping the credit card market, be on the lookout for extra fees and fine print to make sure you’re getting the right card for you.
Cash & Carry
If you can’t trust yourself to spend responsibly with a credit card, abiding by a cash or debit only policy is probably best. Nicole Lapin, editor in chief at Recessionista.com says, “you want to spend the money you already have,” rather than putting things on a credit card and wracking up debt. If this is difficult, Lapin suggests “[giving] yourself a shopping budget, a percentage of your paycheck each month, and take it out in cash to keep yourself from spending it once it’s gone.”
Need vs. Want
According to Schrage, knowing the difference between a perceived deal and an actual deal is of the utmost importance for smart shopping newbies. “For example, if you find a deal on yoga classes at 90 percent off, but have no real interest in it, you’re still wasting money.” Adding that “restraint is the main key,” when deciphering between wants and needs, Schrage reminds us that “once you become comfortable with deal-hunting, you’re going to find cheap prices on just about everything, but it’s important to stick to only what you need to buy.”
The Ins and Outs of Negotiating
Now that so many stores (like Walmart, Target and Best Buy) have price-matching policies in place, there’s no excuse not to question every price tag. “Whether we’re talking about a car or raisin bran, there’s a low price something will sell for, when you know what that should be, when you’re cognizant of it, you’ll wait until something falls to a better price,” says Jean Chatzky, finance expert and editor for the TODAY show (whose new online series called Jean Chatzky’s Money School starts in March). The same is true when negotiating -- if you don’t look for a better price or ask for one, you won’t get a lower price.
While Schrage suggests, “your best opportunities [for negotiating price] are for larger purchases, even if you only get the tax taken off,” Chatzky thinks anything and everything is up for negotiation. “You can always ask ‘can you do better?’ those are my favorite words. It also helps to say ‘I was hoping for less,’ you don’t have to put a number on it.” Although, when you are price matching in store, having competitor’s prices with you (printed out or on your phone) is definitely a smart shopping strategy.
Free Shipping: Is It Worth It?
Finding free shipping isn’t difficult, but as Jana Francis, founder of Steals.com, advises, “free shipping is never free.” Francis points out that the free shipping could be offered on a more expensive item, and a simple comparison search could help you find it at a lower price (shipping included!) elsewhere. When sites create a free shipping minimum on a site you regularly shop, one smart strategy is to sit on your virtual shopping card, adding things only as you need them, until you’ve reached that minimum. This also gives you the chance to watch prices and as you wait to fill your price, the prices could drop and save you even more money.
E-mail Lists: Pros and Cons
Just about every store and e-commerce site has an e-mail list that they send daily blasts out to. Joining these lists can make or break your smart shopping strategy. On the one hand, according to Schrage, they’re wonderfully helpful when you’re already looking for something specific to help you find the best deal.
But for smart shopping newbies, subscribing to a retailers e-mail distribution list could be detrimental to your savings plan. Chatzky recommends unsubscribing yourself from these e-mail lists, especially if you’re unable to resist the urge to shop the deals you’ve just learned about. Chatzky recommends a similar strategy for window-shopping, “if your drive home takes you past stores you can’t avoid going into, change your route. It’s about changing your life in order to break the habits.”
Photo Credit: Flickr/ powkey