What are your best frugal shopping tips?
I get this request a lot from readers so I thought I’d share my approach to thrifty shopping. My tips are really a step-by-step process as you’ll see. I love getting the best deal I can (in a reasonable amount of time), and it’s rare to ever pay full price. And yes, everything is legal and ethical. It just involves some sleuthing.
If you’re thrifty by nature, this will probably be obvious to you.
If you come from the Buy It Now Figure Out The Money Later Club, you might just want to go enjoy some retail therapy instead. This is really for those who want to refine their frugal expertise or get encouragement to carry on with their thrifty ways.
For all of my home organization and financial tips, also see How to De-Clutter Your Finances and Live Debt-Free.
The main keys to getting a great deal are patience and persistence. Take your time, and don’t give up too easily. The thrill of the deal is not for wimps!
Impatience, lack of time, and/or laziness are probably the most common reasons we overspend.
If these steps sound too time-consuming for you, just consider how much your time is really worth. Maybe you earn so much that it’s reasonable to go directly to a store and buy the item new at full price. But even then, could you find the same quality item used or through a different vendor for much less? I’m sure I don’t need to spell out the environmental and financial sense in that. Just because you can afford it, do you really want to pay more than you need to?
Being frugal requires compromise and willingness to adapt. Personally, I like the hunt and sometimes I end up with something better than I set out to find.
My theory is, aside from food and shelter, everything we could possibly want or need in life is probably sitting unused in someone’s basement or attic. The frugalista’s job is to find it.
One other tip that is often overlooked is: shop a day or more late. If you want special items that are marketed for holidays and special occasions, don’t pay full price. Instead, make your own rules and celebrate a day (or more) late. You can great amazing deals on all sorts of things the days after the rush of Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day, and so on.
Of course, if you really want to save money, question every urge to shop with ‘Can I live without this?‘. That pretty much stops most purchases in their tracks. But you’re here for shopping tips, so let’s get started.
Here’s the process I use, listed in order by cost, from free to full price.
Don’t let looks deceive you: it’s not as much work as it seems if you do most of your searching online and keep everything organized with bookmarks.
Frugal Shopping Tips – 9 Easy Steps
Spoiler! Know what the end game looks like before you start shopping:
- Do your homework first, determining exactly what it is you want buy (brand, make, or model, measurements, materials, etc.). I scour reviews and warranties to narrow down my choices for larger purchases.
- How much should it cost? Look up local and online retail prices to know the full price. To get this information, I always check local flyers, websites, and Amazon.com. Also check eBay auction Buy-it-now prices for another perspective.
- Factor in any applicable taxes, shipping, or transportation that may be required.
- Is it seasonal? Many seasonal items go on sale mid season and end of season.
- Once you know the price range, decide how much are you willing to spend. Decide a limit and start hunting for the deal.
- This is one of the most overlooked steps: check your own inventory first. If you lean toward the hoarder end of the spectrum, you may already have something that would work.
- Ask other people. Make your wishes known. Be willing to reciprocate. It’s amazing what can happen when you simply tell people what you’re looking for.
- Check free curbside giveaways or community disposal days.
2. ONLINE ADS
- Check online ads at places like Kijiji and Craigslist. Be sure to read their advice on safe buying and selling practices for your own protection.
- Also place ads asking for what you want. Sometimes the willingness to haul something away is all the vendor requires.
- If you have the means to get there, be sure to check and post ads in surrounding communities as well.
- In many communities there are also buy and sell groups online where you can browse and place requests. If not, you can always start one.
- Check local online and in-person bartering groups. Just be mindful of any government regulations that come along with these things. Some may be subject to taxing.
4. YARD SALES
- Read the ads first in case your desired item is listed. Know your price ceiling and stick with it.
- Stick to the plan: you know what you want to buy. Ignore all those other crazy bargoons.
5. THRIFT SHOPS
- The prices at second hand shops can be deceptive. Thrift shops like Value Village have become so popular in recent years that sometimes the prices of used items are higher than you’d pay new in a retail shop. Know your prices and don’t be fooled because the items are used!
- Check for customer appreciation programs and watch for big discount days.
6. HABITAT FOR HUMANITY RESTORES
- You can find some really wild stuff in these stores. Old materials such as doors, windows, kitchen cabinets, light fixtures, and much more, are rescued from renovation projects and offered at great prices.
- As mentioned earlier, keep in mind that you may need to pay transportation costs for larger items.
- I often use eBay to research prices before I start my hunt. I bookmark listings I like in case I can’t find the item locally and end up making my purchase online.
- If you’ve never used an online auction site, read up on best practices, how to know which vendors to trust, and best bidding techniques.
- Watch the shipping costs. They can make or break a deal.
8 AUCTION SALES
- I grew up attending auction sales with my parents and, sadly, auctions have changed a lot over the years. Today there are often buyer’s premiums tacked onto the final sale prices, in addition to any applicable taxes, so keep that in mind. Your winning bid may end up a fraction of the total cost.
- Sometimes at auctions the best bargains are hidden in the jumbled boxes of junk. I got my antique sock knitting machine (paid $30, now worth $1000+) in a box of riff raff that no one else seemed to notice.
9. RETAIL SHOPS
- You knew we’d get here eventually. Yes, sometimes when all other routes have been exhausted, we buy new. It’s not a crime but a bit disappointing when you’re in search of something with character.
- But sometimes it comes down to needing the item in new condition with a full warranty for best use of one’s money.
- Even if you’re resorting to buying new, at least be patient enough to get a discount. Check local and online stores.
- Watch for customer loyalty programs, flash sales, discount coupons, ebates, point systems, and so on. Check the local flyers. Sometimes the same deals come up every few months. Google the name of the store + coupon. You never know what you’ll find.
- Check scratch and dent and surplus stores.
- Check more than one department at a store. I recently needed a particular type of power bar for electronics. The same item was $15 more in the electronics department than it was in the household section at our local store.
- The Amazon.com database is an excellent place to review prices and find online vendors.
And just because you’re buying new, you don’t have to be taken by The Man.
More Inspiration? How I created my dream garden on just $100 a year.