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Shopping on a Budget

By Edited Jun 30, 2014 1 3

Finding ways to simply life can often be boiled down to preparedness and organization.

One of the biggest stressors, or pleasures in life, depending on the way you view it, can be shopping. What about shopping on a fixed budget every week? How do you add value and not sacrifice variety or quality?

1) Do your research. Do you look at flyers you get in the mail for substantial savings? Look for prices that knock more than ten cents off the price, although savings add up. A savings of fifteen to twenty percent is decent, anything that is higher than a 25% savings should be considered a steal. Watch out for 2-for-1 advertisements. Sometimes these are great deals, sometimes the price has already been artificially inflated for the single unit price to make the 2-for-1 deal even more attractive in savings value. In the end, the only way to win with those high-priced 2-for-1 deals is to say, "No Thanks." Look online for printable coupons and contact your favorite grocery or discount retailer such as WalMart, Target, Trader Joes, and find out whether they accept double coupons. Double coupons allow you to essentially double the value of the coupon and double your savings. I have been in line behind people who pay $.92 for more than a dozen items; they walk away grinning and were clutching a fistful of coupons as though they were conquering a country. This is light years better than the sheepish attitude most have when dealing with coupons. As long as printing coupons (use the "print in grayscale" option under printing preferences) doesn't tax your paper or toner bill, this can lead to super savings!

If you make a list, stick to your list, or allow 1-3 luxury items, or a luxury budget. This can control your impulse and still give you enough adrenaline to not exhaust you on your shopping adventures.

2) The Early Bird Gets the Worm... but sometimes the mid-week shopper gets the best of a restock after the crowds have ceased.  The deals usually aren't going anywhere until the next week. Realize supply is not endless for these items, and most of the time corporate chains have directives to put out at least a certain percentage of their merchandise before the new week or end of the business day. Usually they are not hoarding items like De Beers diamonds. Treat massive sales, real sales, not ones that jerk you around as J.C. Penney used to, as Black Friday without the aggression. Grab a cup of coffee and compare. Don't forget, there is no pressure. There should not be an impulse. You should tell yourself to come back if you are having sticker shock but the discount seems too good to pass up. Most of the time, those who come early will get the better flavors, the better appetizers, the better cheese, the better brand sales, and won't have to put up with frozen items that look like a tornado blew through. Sometimes you can tell a frozen item sat in a cart for too long and has melted and re-frozen. Avoid those general areas and move on. The show's over, sister.

3) The Manager is Your Best Friend. Use this person as a resource, anonymously if you must call in from home. Ask about manager's specials, sales, if you can bring in those pesky coupons you forgot at home along with a receipt but may have forgotten about up to 48 hours of making a purchase. This is one of those people you don't want to be too friendly with or request too much of. Managers are always on the lookout for scammers, so make sure your questions are legitimate and you have a vested interest in the success of the business. Managers can correct price errors in the form of store credit cards or cash back; managers can verify that an advertisement was not taken down before the discount was taken out of the registry system and credit you the difference; and most of all, managers can price match. Show them a flyer of a competitor and save yourself some gas. Pull up to that customer service station with a cart full of groceries. You show loyalty now and have some leverage. Do they risk the profit margin on 100 items for $1?

4) Be Patient. Scout out deals that corporate didn't even know existed. Many times, store managers won't have any control over publicity or branding or flyers except yes or no. District managers and advertisement experts create promotions and pass them down through a chain. One tactic is to scan the aisle for yellow or red tags, and feel free to browse for what you need, but figure out which items  are marked up from usual or which ones will be on sale next week and wait for later. Don't be afraid to max out the number of items you purchase in an attempt to capitalize, especially with non-perishable foods. These items make great pantry stuffers, as long as they are things you normally use every few weeks at the very least.

Also, be patient with your favorite frozen meals and snacks, tv dinners, frozen pizzas, potato chips, and soda. Wait for sales. The variance among the prices for vendors such as Jack's, Red Baron, Healthy Choice, Lay's, Frito-Lay, etc is ridiculous. Most of these items are ideally priced at $2.50 or less, usually sale 4/$10 on a good day. You should be able to find chips at well under $2 during a good sale or bulk purchase. Buying 12-packs of soda is still popular, but not economical. 2-liters of soda are still the cheapest way to buy soda, as long as you have the space in your refrigerator or pantry. On sale, these two liters can run as low as $.79 apiece.  Great-tasting bottled water in 24-packs from Ice Mountain, Aquafina, or Nestle can be easily bought for under $5.

5) Don't Bring the Debit Card... OR the Pride. Who is too good to save money? Walking into an intuitively designed grocery store, marketed by a retail team who has studied retail psychology is like walking into a food casino. Leave the debit card at home, estimate your total cost from the list you have made for the weekly meals ahead, and try to come in under budget with cash. As you are checking out, never, ever be afraid to announce your intentions of budgeting to the cashier. Sometimes these angels will come in, swiping their rewards card, or giving up on finding the right code for produce and passing it on capriciously. Line up your gambles at the end of the lane, by that I mean, your most expensive or luxury items. Tell the cashier when you don't have the money for one of these items or if you need to void an item.

There's no apology needed to the rest of the line. Think about how shopping started and how slow the lines must have gone in a general store. You are conducting a transaction, not running a marathon. If you have leftover money, don't buy Peanut M&Ms, TicTacs, chewing gum, or that one 20 oz Mountain Dew you've been craving. Bring those dollars and cents home, put them in a piggy jar, and wait until you have 10 piggy jar trips until you unload it. You now have at least seed money for a free grocery trip.

6) Pay It Forward. If you practice this idea on yourself, you will find yourself practicing a life art known as Save Now, Spend Later. Remember that money can always be spent, but you are always looking back after spending money wanting the money to spend on something else. Most consumers have unlimited wants, so remember that what you save now is not gone, but spent simply at a different time. Delaying gratification takes time and patience, but it is without a doubt more rewarding to get groceries for free than it is to have your private own bottle of soda instead of cracking open a can you just bought at a discount.

Be smart, don't give into temptation or that classic empty stomach, and remember the future! Going shopping is like treasure hunting if you have the time, patience, and knowledge. Good luck!

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Comments

Apr 5, 2012 12:44am
Misskate
Great article, I am the type of person who shops on a budget even when i don't need to. I believe every cent counts, these are great tips.
Apr 8, 2012 12:47am
GregorMendel
Thanks MissKate! I really appreciate it. Not too much traffic on anything, yet.
May 1, 2012 8:34am
alexiafeatherchild
Really enjoyed the insight of these tips on shopping on a budget. Whenever new games come out that I really want save for a couple of times, I waited six months to a year or more before buying them as the price would come down. I'll keep these in mind the next I go shopping.
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