10 Defensive Shopping Tactics
One of the best ways to save money at the store is to never be caught unprepared. We've compiled a list of 10 defensive shopping tactics worth adopting before you step out the door for any shopping excursion.
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1. Stick to a list.Whether you're shopping for food, clothing, or home goods, always go in with a plan. It may take some time to prepare a list, but the investment will pay off. Sure, those shoes might look good with your new skirt or you may really like to own that movie that just came out on DVD, but if the item isn't on your list there's probably a reason it didn't make the cut in the first place.
2. Set a budget in advance.Set a spending budget for everything, from weekly groceries to birthday and holiday gifts, and keep an eye on the big picture, not just the isolated shopping trip. How much can you afford to spend on each niece's or nephew's birthdays? How much should you budget for your parents' anniversary? Thinking these things through before arriving at the store -- and not making spur-of-the-moment decisions -- can yield a return in the form of money saved.
As for grocery staples, you probably have a good idea how much it costs to feed your family and what items are really necessary. The USDA reports that, groceries for a family of four cost $126.50 to $287.50 a week in 2012, depending on how "thrifty" they were. Set your spending limit ahead of time and use the other defensive shopping tactics on this list to help you come in on budget.
3. Go with cash, not credit.To ensure you don't exceed the budget, shop with as much cash as needed to cover the day's spending plan. This way you won't even have the option of buying something extra. With credit, spending can seem out of sight, out of mind, making it much easier to "worry about it later" while digging yourself into a financial hole.
4. Don't go to the grocery store hungry.Doing otherwise is akin to unleashing a caged animal. If you're constantly interrupted by a growling stomach, you're at greater risk of getting off task and making impulse buys. Things can get ugly by the time you reach the cash register.
Grocery shopping on an empty stomach can also be tough on your waistline. According to CBS News, shopping for food while hungry can lead to the purchase of more food items with high calorie counts.
5. Research weekly savings.Do your homework. Find out what's on sale or what coupons are circulating that week before heading to the store. If an item isn't on sale, doesn't have a coupon, and you don't have an immediate need for it, don't buy it. Try creating your shopping list around weekly deals. If your family has favorite meals, choose those you can prepare with ingredients you can buy at a discount.
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This defensive shopping tip holds for more than just groceries. Many large retailers circulate coupons that offer a percentage off one item and sometimes the entire tab. If more than one store carries the goods you're looking for, consider planning your shopping trip around the deals each store is offering.
6. Shop without the kids.Not that you don't love the company, or the pleas for sugary cereals and bouncy balls, but focusing on the task at hand will be directly reflected on your receipt. You have a better chance of remembering to match the coupon to the item or sticking to the products in the weekly circular when shopping (defensively, of course) on your own. Also, you're less likely to break down and buy the extra package of cookies if there's no one to suggest (or beg for) it.
7. Buy store brands if possible.A report by MSN Money notes that switching to the store brand can cut up to 25 percent off your grocery bill.
Many store brand items are manufactured by the brand-name company. While the products' ingredient lists may vary a smidge and the packaging may look quite different, the contents are often hard to distinguish. Consumer Reports conducted a taste test with 19 products in which the store brand and the name brand tied 10 times and the store brand won once.
Not all things are created equal so you may find that some store brand items just won't do. It's worth giving the store brand a shot in order to shave some dough from your final bill.
8. Always compare prices.While it may be convenient to shop at the store nearest your home, it may not be best for your wallet. As long as you aren't driving an unreasonable distance to save a few dollars, it may make sense to compare prices. Perhaps one store has better prices on paper goods while another consistently offers better buys on produce. Making too many stops isn't budget friendly either, but if saving money is a priority you may need to spread your spending among a few reliable merchants.
9. Time yourself.Get in and get out. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to pick up what you need, but not a second more. The more time you're in the line of fire, the more likely you are to deviate from plan. Keep an eye on the clock or set the timer on your watch or cell phone lest you end up in an aisle full of temptations.
10. Don't be fooled by the salesperson.Remember, his or her job is to sell you something. As a savvy consumer it's up to you to shop defensively by doing your research first, especially for big-ticket items such as electronics or cars. If the salesperson sees that you're knowledgeable about the products, you'll be less vulnerable to being lured into a purchase you didn't intend.