10 Defensive Shopping Tactics

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SMART WAYS TO SHOP

One of the best ways to save money at the store is to be prepared. Especially during the holidays, it's easy to be swept into a shopping frenzy –- the desire to give the perfect gift, the pull of big discounts, and even the holiday music piped into stores can spark overspending. Adopt this list of 10 defensive shopping tactics before heading to the store.

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, but a list can prevent impulse buying. Sure, those shoes might complement a new skirt and that well-reviewed movie just came out on Blu-ray, but if the item isn't on the list, there's probably a good reason why it didn't make the cut.

SET A BUDGET IN ADVANCE

Set a budget for everything from weekly groceries to holiday shopping. Also, keep an eye on the big picture: How much can you afford to spend on each niece's or nephew's birthday? How much should you budget for your parents' anniversary? Thinking through these annual expenditures can help you incorporate them into a monthly budget. As for grocery staples, reassess which items are truly necessary to feed your family. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that a nutritious diet for a "thrifty" family of four with small children costs $131.10 a week (based on October 2015 food prices). Set a spending limit to stave off spur-of-the-moment purchases.

BUY WITH CASH, NOT CREDIT

To stick to a budget, shop with only enough cash to cover the day's spending plan. This eliminates the option of buying something extra. Paying with cash also makes spending tangible. Credit card spending, while convenient, has an "out of sight, out of mind" quality that makes it much easier to dig a financial hole.

DON'T GO TO THE GROCERY STORE HUNGRY

A shopper constantly distracted by a growling stomach is at greater risk of losing focus and making impulse buys. This can ruin not only a spending plan but also a diet plan. According to a study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, grocery shopping while hungry can lead to the purchase of more food items with high calorie counts.

RESEARCH WEEKLY DEALS

Find out what's on sale and what coupons are circulating, then create a shopping list built around those deals. Don't buy any item at full price unless there's an immediate need. Plan meals that can be prepared with ingredients available at a discount. Finding weekly deals doesn't apply just to grocery purchases, either. 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 on your list, consider planning a shopping trip around the deals each store is offering.

SHOP WITHOUT THE KIDS

Not that the company isn't lovely, but the pleas for sugary cereals and bouncy balls will be directly reflected on your receipt. It's also easier to keep track of coupons and deals without the constant distraction of kids. Leaving them at home can be good for your waistline, too -- you have a better chance of resisting that package of cookies when there's no one to suggest (or beg for) it.

BUY STORE BRANDS IF POSSIBLE

Customers who buy generic save an estimated $32 billion a year, according to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, and picky shoppers should know that many store brand items are manufactured by brand-name companies. While the products' ingredient lists may vary slightly and the packaging differs, the contents are often hard to distinguish. Consumer Reports conducted a taste test with 19 food products in which the store brand and the name brand tied 10 times and the store brand won once. Although some store brand items may not measure up, they're worth trying at least once.

ALWAYS COMPARE PRICES

While it may be convenient to shop close to home, it may not be best for your wallet. Compare prices at a number of stores to see if the drive is worth it. Perhaps one store has better prices on paper goods while another consistently offers cheap produce. Making too many stops isn't budget-friendly, but do be open to spreading your spending among a few reliable merchants.

DON'T BE FOOLED BY THE SALESPERSON

Remember, the job of a salesperson is to sell something. Do some research first, especially before shopping for big-ticket items such as electronics or a car. When a salesperson sees that a customer is knowledgeable about a product, the chance of an unwanted (or more expensive) sale is far less.

TIME YOURSELF

Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to pick up what is needed, but don't linger. The more time spent in a store, the more opportunity to deviate from the shopping plans. Keep an eye on the clock, or set the timer on your watch or phone, to reduce the chance of being lured into an aisle of temptations.