I very rarely pay full price for anything. I usually pay much, much less than full price. I realized that I have a pretty systematic strategy for finding the best deals on everything we buy. I have always shopped with this strategy, but it was especially helpful during the years we were working on our enormous student loan payoff goal. It’s an awesome way to keep our family’s expenses super low.
The steps are numbered because the order helps to really pay the absolute least possible. Of course, depending on your situation and preferences, you can skip steps too.
1. Anticipate Needs: Keep a List
This is KEY! Getting the best deals often requires patience. The more time you have to scope out sales and wait for the perfect deal, the more money you will save. Buying something in a hurry or on a whim is when you end up spending more than you wanted.
I keep a running list of things that I need, from random kitchen gadgets to the clothes each of my kids need for the next year or two. I plan in advance what I would like to give for Christmas and birthday gifts. I keep an actual written list in my purse so I always have it.
2. Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open and It Might Be Free
Good things come to those who wait. Being patient has paid off for us in the way of free items more than once. When I am seriously looking for a big ticket item, I peruse the free section of Craigslist.org and look at emails from Freecycle.org. Sometimes I casually mention what I’m looking for to a friend or two at church. It’s often a win-win situation, as someone is looking to get rid of something that is just what we are looking for.
Last year, we got a nice, working dishwasher through Freecycle from someone who was remodeling their kitchen. I have been longing for a dishwasher for a long time, but didn’t want to spend the money to purchase one yet. The dishwasher we got on Freecycle was the first dishwasher we have ever had in 8 years of marriage. It has been a huge blessing!
3. Know Your Market and Have a Target Price
If you want to get an awesome deal, you have to know what an awesome deal looks like! Know what the regular price of your item is. Doing a little research online can help you out, especially for big ticket items. Browsing Amazon can give me a pretty good idea of what a normal price is on a lot of different items.
Decide what you want to spend on the items on your list and set that as your target price. Knowing ahead of time what you are willing to spend on something helps you pass up the deals that aren’t that great. If you plan to shop at garage sales, it’s nice to be able to tell the seller, “I’m looking for a dresser that’s under $10.”
4. Browse Garage Sales and Thrift Stores
It’s no secret that buying secondhand is one of the best ways to save money. While we aren’t willing to buy everything secondhand, used works fine for the majority of our purchases.
Garage sales are hit or miss. You won’t find everything on your list (and you’ll probably find some treasures that aren’t on your list), but when you do find something, not only is the price negotiable, it will also likely be the lowest price you’ll find. Clothing at yard sales and garage sales almost without fail will be priced lower than thrift stores.
The advantage that thrift stores have is they have a consistent schedule and plenty of inventory. What they have is always changing, but you know that they will have a wide selection. Most thrift stores have daily or weekly deals categories and markdowns.
5. Shop Used Items Online
Buying used items online is often a little more expensive than what you’d pay at a yard sale or thrift store. The difference is the convenience factor and the search feature. To find something on your list at a garage sale takes more luck and legwork that searching online, which is why the price is cheaper. Some great places to look online are:
- Local Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade or Garage Sale-type pages
- Classified ads through your local newspaper or Penny Saver
- Ebay (There are lots of NEW items on Ebay too)
- Online Consignment (like ThreadUp)
6. Regularly Peek at the Clearance Section
When you’re in Target or other favorite stores, take a peek at the clearance section when you are already in the store. Be sure to have your list in hand, otherwise you will just spend and not save! I wait until items are marked down to at least 50% before I even look. Remember that even if it looks like a great deal, if you don’t need it or haven’t budgeted for it, it’s not a good deal. That being said, I have found lots of items from my list on clearance. Good things come to those who wait!
7. Watch for Sales
If you can’t (or don’t want to) find the item second hand, keep your eyes peeled for sales. Depending on what you’re looking for, there may be a certain time of year that is better than others. I’ve found great Lands’ End swimsuits at dirt cheap prices for myself and my kids during the fall and winter seasons.
Retailers love making every holiday into a shopping holiday. Take a peek at the ads on holiday weekends if you’re looking for something specific. Don’t be fooled into buying that’s something that’s a good deal, if you’ve got time to wait for a great deal.
If you’ve looked at Black Friday ads in the past, you probably have a good idea of the kind of items that will be the store’s doorbuster sales. If you have tools or kitchen appliances on your list (or your gift list), waiting until November for your purchases will save you money. Remember most Black Friday deals online are just as good as in the store, so avoid the crowd and stay home with your family!
8. Avoid Paying Shipping
Because I live in the boonies, I look for great deals online. Even if you live close to shopping areas, running from store to store to find a great deal might not be your idea of a good time. While shopping online can be convenient, it also usually comes with a charge for shipping. I do whatever I can to avoid paying shipping.
I always compare prices online and factor in shipping. Buying on Amazon is often a no-brainer with Amazon Prime’s free two-day shipping. You can get a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime or if you’re a college student, you can get free two-day shipping with Amazon Student. For individual retailers, I search for free shipping codes, wait for a free shipping deal, or sometimes it’s worth it to meet minimum purchase requirements.
9. Always Use Rebate Sites
For online shopping, I never complete my order without going through a rebate or cash-back site. You can even get cash back shopping on some categories on Ebay and Amazon.
Rakuten is my favorite cash back site. When you sign up for Rakuten and make your first $30 purchase, you’ll get a bonus $30 bonus. It’s amazing how fast that cash back adds up.
For many things on my list, I don’t move past step #4. As a need becomes more urgent, I will move down to other steps. Sometimes I go out of order, but with my target price still in mind. The key to making this strategy work well for you is to anticipate your needs.
Some Real-Life Examples
I could talk your ear off about the deals I’ve found on this and that by following the strategy I outlined, but I’ll try to keep it brief so you can go make your list and start looking out for great deals. Here are just a few of my real-life examples from when I originally published this in 2014.
Since my husband wears a suit six days a week, his two suits are getting well-worn. For a while, I’ve had “new suit” on my radar. Whenever I’m in a thrift store, I check the suits. His size is pretty rare (he’s super tall), so I have never actually found a suit in his size, but that doesn’t stop me from looking. Taking a minute to look when I’m already in the store is not a burden, and if I ever do actually find one, the money I save will be well worth my time and diligence.
I looked around online and found that regular department stores don’t carry his size. He is the average height of an NBA player, so we are stuck with shopping at specialty stores. As the need became more urgent, we looked at the Labor Day sales and decided to head out and look in-store. We went to the closest Jos A Bank store where they were having a “Buy One, Get Three Free” sale (keep in mind the cheapest suit is $650). They only had 4 suits that were his size and none of them were colors or fabrics we liked, but at least we learned what suits fit well so we could continue our search online.
I took a peek at Ebay, knowing that finding a suit coat and pants together that would both fit, would be near impossible. I was delighted to find someone selling brand new Jos A Bank suits for well-below retail. There were even several suits in my husband’s size! I got a $900 suit for just $100. I need to tailor the unfinish edge of the pants, but at that price it’s well worth learning a new sewing skill.
After paying over $100 for a pair of new dress shoes for my husband back in law school, I wanted to do whatever I could to avoid doing that again. I have “men’s dress shoes” on my list whether my husband has a current need for them or not (his size isn’t changing). If I can avoid the situation where he needs shoes immediately, I can save a lot of money buying secondhand shoes that are still in great condition.
I always walk by the men’s shoes when I’m in the thrift store. Several times I have found shoes in his size that are in wonderful condition for $3 to $10. Sometimes they’ve even been half off! I also found a great deal on Ebay. I search for a brand, style, and size that he already knew fit well. They were very lightly used and as the only bidder, I bought them for $10 with free shipping.
We do our best to anticipate big needs, as well as small needs. When I was pregnant with #3, we started looking into buying a minivan, as our car would not fit three car seats in the back. Since we started looking with plenty of time to spare, we could go about our search without any pressure and wait for the best deal. We casually mentioned to friends that we were looking to upgrade our car to fit our growing family and the van practically came right to us! A friend brought us together with the seller and it worked out perfectly for both of us. We found a van in great condition with the right price tag and we didn’t set foot on a car lot!
How About You
- What are your best strategies for saving money on everyday purchases?
- Do you keep a list and shop ahead for future needs?
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Carolyn @ Raspberries in the Rough says
These are great tips! I’m great at just not spending money, but when it comes to shopping (not my favorite activity) I’m not very knowledgeable, and I know I’ve spent more than I should have in some instances. I’ll start using more of your strategies!
These are great tips. I really have to look into those cash back sites because I tend to do a lot of online shopping.
I have trained myself to always check a cash back site before I buy anything. Ebates is always first. Now I just need to train my husband to remember. 🙂
I always check clothing clearance racks, since clothing at most big-box stores will go up to 70/75% off (or 90% off at Kohls), so for kids clothes, I hold off for the super steep discounts, but for me I would take 50% off if they still had my size. Either way, this is cheaper than thrift stores most of the time.
On the other hand, most household commodities can be had at 50% off through a combination of sale watching + coupons, and the clearance for these things tend to start at a wimpy 15-20% off, so I barely bother with checking out clearance in the rest of the store.
You’re like me Hannah! 20% off is a joke, unless it’s something I absolutely have to buy right now anyway. Having a list and thinking ahead allows me to be patient until the steep discounts come!
Kate @ Money Propeller says
I make sure that I have my list with me every time I go to grocery and also my loyalty card. I’m planning to redeem my points this coming Christmas!
That’s great Kate! It’s fun to save up your points for a specific goal like Christmas!
I feel like I should clarify something I just wrote: although I don’t peruse thrift stores and online sites for clothing, we still look for bargains just the same. The jeans I mentioned above with their sale price combined with a coupon cost about $17.00 each vs. the $40.00 or $50.00 they started out as (this was for a 15 year old). We were also fortunate in that C didn’t have a growth spurt for awhile, so these jeans lasted 1 1/2 school years. We still look for the best deals, but I only venture out 3 times a year: for Easter clothes, back to school, and most years for Christmas.
When my sons were much younger (we have 4 boys spanning a 10 year age range) my favorite deal was with Sears. I don’t know if they still do this, but 20+ years ago they would replace kids’ jeans (brands they carried) that had worn out. So, when the boys were in the 5-9 year old range and would wear out the knees of pants, I was able to take the old jeans to Sears and replace them with a brand new pair (it had to be the same size). I’d just save the pants for the next son coming up. I paid for one pair of Levis and was able outfit 4 children with new clothes:)
That is an awesome tip on Sears! I wonder if they still do that?! That is so cool that you could make one pair of jeans last through 4 boys and always look (well, be) new!! My 3-year-old is wearing hand-me-downs that his cousin and my 5-year-old both wore. Three boys is definitely the limit for pants. They are all wearing out! If we have another boy, we’ll have to get some new clothes!
I use your shopping strategy for grocery items. For example, a month or so before school starts I start watching for sales on sandwich/snack bags, or before the baking season starts begin stocking up on butter or flour when it’s on sale. After Easter I look for hams that are being clearanced out and buy 2 or 3 to store in the freezer (my husband always looks forward to having a ham bone to cook with dried pinto beans – strangely this is his favorite meal).
I’ll admit I don’t do this with clothing though. I HATE to shop, so I wait until it’s desperation time, such as back to school, and just face it once. Sadly, I’ve rubbed off on my son on this – I feel for his future wife. Before school, we went to Old Navy, he tried on a couple pairs of jeans to get the right fit, we picked up 5 pairs, all alike, (thankfully he chose some on sale) and within 15 minutes we were in and out of there. The thought of scouring stores repeatedly just doesn’t work for me, but I am envious of those who find bargains like you mentioned. I take a big risk of missing out when I don’t use methods like yours.
I know what you mean Karen! I don’t like clothes shopping for myself AT ALL! I am fine with shopping for my kids or my husband, but I really don’t like trying on clothes and shopping for myself. When I find something that fits and I like, I better get it in a couple different colors!
That’s great that you shop strategically for groceries. We always stock up on Turkeys and Hams around the holidays too, then we never have to pay full price.
Kathryn K. says
Stephanie – You’ve got bargain shopping down to science, very impressive!
I do some of these things (scan thrift shops and garage sales, wait for sales if buying new) but could be more systematic. I haven’t bought anything off eBay yet -it’s a bit overwhelming and intimidating – but my daughter needs a new winter coat so this might be a good time to gather up my gumption and give it another try!
Ebay isn’t as scary as it seems. Just be sure to look at all the photos of the listing and read the description before bidding or buying.
I just found a winter coat for my daughter at a yard sale last weekend. Thrift stores are good options too, especially in the off-season when they aren’t picked over, though some smaller stores won’t have coats out in the off-season.
Stephanie, your site is SO so fun! Oh my goodness! I just found it last night doing some Etsy research, but I am now side-tracked and *way* excited/inspired by your awesome budgeting. I can’t wait to download the YNAB trial tonight (and fully expect I will buy it before my trial is up).
Also, can I just say, I am awed & delighted by how forthright you are here with your finances? I know it’s such a personal topic, but you handle it wonderfully, and it’s refreshing and so terribly helpful to have concrete examples. Thank you so much.
Thanks Laura! This made me smile! I’m glad that seeing our real-life examples helps. Best wishes on your Etsy and budgeting journeys!
mrs TIP says
Linda Thomson says
I really admire how detail oriented you are! Its a great idea to keep a list of things you need or will need soon.
Thanks Linda. I am a list-maker for just about everything. My husband teases my that my lists are sometimes on scrap paper and the back of envelopes. Now he’s trying to get me to make my lists on my smartphone, but it’s a hard transition for this pencil and paper girl! 🙂
I’m definitely a deal shopper. There is one Kohl’s near us that has great clearance racks. I found a great pair of jeans that I love for 90% off, making them 3.36 and then I had a 30% off coupon. Love em.
Oh, the stories I could tell. When my daughter was about 6 we were at the grocery store. She wandered away and came back to me with 2 candy bars and putting her change and receipt away in her purse. She said, “I just bought 2 full size candy bars for .13”. Me – “How did you do that?” Her, “I found them in the clearance cart”. I went over to the clearance cart but couldn’t find them. As she was licking the chocolate from her lips (which she did not share with me), she said “I got the last 2”. She’s 14 1/2 now and still very frugal when it comes to clothes. I transfer her clothing money to her checking account and she is in charge of buying her own clothes. She does not pay full price for anything.
Kathryn K. says
The story about your daughter is hilarious – and awesome!
Kohl’s does have some great deals. I love the $10 off $10 or more that I used to get in the mail when we had a Kohl’s close.
That is awesome that your daughter learned to be a bargain shopper (and an independent one) at such a young age!!
Frugal Lee says
Awesome tips! I haven’t checked into eBates before – I’ll be checking that out next.
My problem with target prices is trying to remember all the prices for the things I buy – I can keep maybe …ohh… prices for three things in my head at any one time. Any suggestions on how to keep track of those target prices?
I love Ebates! I just need to get my husband into the habit of always checking there before making a purchase. 🙂
For things I can’t remember, I keep a target price list. In fact, the last time I was in Winco, I wrote down the prices of the bulk spices so I would have a baseline price. As I’ve compared them around, they are almost always cheaper (even cheaper than Sam’s Club bulk spices).
I would agree from experience on most of your strategies above! For several years I have found that the best way to get deals is to plan in advance. This also helps us to really think about what we want/need as far as house maintenance/decor and often we may change our minds if we can’t find the right price we want to pay. We may decide to wait, save, or come up with an alternative using this method.
I keep a running inventory of our clothing, kitchen appliance/gadget needs, and household items such as linens, etc. I don’t tend to use Craigslist or Freecycle, but I do use my inventory lists to keep my eyes open when I am in a store, scoping out the clearance section, or browsing online. I tend to purchase if I can get free shipping, clearance prices, or sales deals, especially on items that are seasonal like kids’ coats/boots. I do tend to gravitate toward quality brands in order to have them last longer too. I’ve had to adjust my mindset as well! For example, I grew up in Michigan, where winters are always cold and it is common to always have several pairs of snow pants, boots, gloves, hats, and scarves on hand. However, we have lived in Virginia now for the past 6 years and I’ve found that this just isn’t necessary. I can get away with much less and oftentimes these are items I’m able to get from family when they want to get our girls something they “need” for Christmas. Last year they received new snow boots for Christmas from their grandma, for example. My husband also has to keep an eye out for business clothing, but he will tend to try on clothing in the stores to know what size/style fits best, fabric he likes (such as wrinkle free, etc) and will then search online for the best price.
Keeping a list really does give you time to change your mind and wait or save. Thanks for sharing your experience Erin. I agree that in many cases good brands really are worth paying a little more for so they last longer. That’s awesome that you can cut down on your winter gear since you’re in VA. Winter gear takes up so much space!!