3 Ways To Spend Less While Shopping

Shopping is a war and you are outgunned. Stores attack your desire for self-restraint with armies of psychologists, marketers, and “brand gurus.” Defend yourself from overspending with three easy and effective tips from Alpha Consumer…

1. Shop With A Timer: Avoid wasteful and expensive browsing by marching into stores with firm deadlines. Looking for a single item? Remind yourself it’s time to leave by setting your cellphone to ring after five minutes.

2. Reward Your Effort: Need a little extra motivation to research that insurance you should have bought months ago? “Just like diet and exercise, slogging through the details of dreaded, uninteresting purchase decisions is hard work and requires some investment of time and energy. Set up the amount of time as well as the actual time, such as 2:30-3:00 p.m. on Sunday, that you will solely use to focus on evaluating the purchase details. Note this in your calendar along with a “treat” for sticking to the details and honoring your time commitment. Knowing that you have a reward for a job “well done” (or at least, “done”) will help motivate you through the nitty-gritty of this kind of shopping situation.”

3. Enlist An Expert: Alpha Consumer recommends enlisting an expert before making a large purchase, paying for outside help if necessary. Most of the “expert advice” available for sale is already hiding on the internet. Don’t open your wallet without first training to become an armchair expert.

3 Ways to Be a Smarter Shopper [Alpha Consumer]
(Photo: goodrob13)


Edit Your Comment

  1. theRIAA says:

    4) bring a graphing calculator
    5) control yourself.
    6) find cheaper and healthier substitutes to things in your cart and replace them.
    7) spend more time there thinking about your decisions. if you have to run at a joggers pace around the store to avoid looking at impulse buys, then you have a control problem. I’m disgusted by impulse buys pre-packaged fake food, you should learn to be.

  2. TeraGram says:

    8) Keep a Price Book and update it regularly.

  3. Robobot says:

    Starving college student method: I march into the grocery store pen and paper ready and subtract my purchases to the cent from my weekly grocery budget. I have a pre-made list of the items that I need in order of how much I need them. That way I won’t exceed my limit (Usually $30-$40 for two people,) and I’ll still have the most necessary items from the top part of the list. By shopping smart I usually tick off most of the items from my list, if not all of them. I also pay attention to coupons and specials, but only for items that I already need. So yeah, a lot of pre-planning is key.

    Eating less helps too. I squeeze a balanced diet into roughly 1,500 calories a day and drink plenty of water. My mother is so proud.

  4. mannyv says:

    Get an iPhone and download SaveBenjis, an application that lets you check the price of an item online. When you see how much less the item is online, you won’t buy it in-store…then you’ll forget about it when you get home.

  5. varro says:

    Buy Kittehs at the shelter, not the pet store….they’re cheaper, healthier, and you’ll be helping teh Kittehs, not irresponsible breeders.

  6. Mykro says:

    @mannyv: “Get an Iphone”
    Get an iPhone to save money.. hmm… SHouldnt you save money to get an iPhone?

  7. AlexTheSane says:

    1. Shop With A Timer

    Nothing I love more than turning the real world into my own episode of Supermarket Sweep.

  8. pixiegirl1 says:

    #2 treat your self? So in order to save money I get to spend money to reward my searching efforts, interesting. So say I am looking to save on car insurance but I find out I already have the best plan I should go out and spend money on a treat because I earned it *on my way to Tiffany’s because I deserve a treat!*.

    I’m sure this sounds old school & redundant but only spend cash. If you can’t afford everything you want with whatever cash you have on hand decide whats more important food or the newest issue of Star?

  9. misteral says:

    9) Grab a smaller shopping cart

    I don’t know about down in the states, but here in Canada a number of grocery stores have these huge 2 level shopping carts. I find that when I use them I forget what’s on the second level, and buy more than I intended. Using the smaller cart i can see what I have, and it’s usually really what I need. A big help also comes when my daughter wants to sit IN the cart, it fills quicker and I find myself putting back what I really don’t need

  10. Womblebug says:

    @pixiegirl1: Why does treating yourself have to involve spending money? I have ice cream in the freezer already just waiting for me…

  11. TangDrinker says:

    Make shopping at resale/thrifts/goodwill first a habit. Obviously that won’t work for food, unless you’re brave.

    We’ve started “shopping” for home repair items at the local Habitat for Humanity Resale shop and have been quite pleased with what we’ve found. We recently replaced our 6 inch deep kitchen sink with a NEW 12 inch sink we found – for 5 bucks. Our neighbor picked up enough hardwood flooring (not laminate, but the real stuff) to replace his downstairs carpeted area for around $100. There are tons of light bulbs, fixtures, hardware, you name it. Contractors often bring new, unused, or barely used items there after renovations/new construction. You’re saving stuff from going to the landfill, the money you pay goes to fund Habitat Houses, and you save $$! win!

  12. Sasha_Pie says:

    Pick up one of those small hand baskets to shop for basic items. If you can’t carry it, you can’t buy it.

    This works really well at, say, Target or the grocery store… where you go in for only four or five items and suddenly you’re tempted by sale or bulk impulse items to buy more than you need. For instance, do I really want to have to carry around a gallon of iced tea? Or should I buy the small can of mix and make it myself for 1/5th of the price? Big, heavy or unwieldy (expensive) items suddenly don’t look like such a good idea when those cheap plastic handles start to dig into your arms.

  13. edrebber says:

    Only buy when the item is on sale or you have a coupon.

  14. mac-phisto says:

    research is the key – especially with large purchases. know what you want from what you’re buying & use expert & user reviews to discover the product that fits best & the retailer that offers the best deal.

    i find that putting thought behind your larger purchases also has a tendency to make you think about smaller purchases. i have a really hard time pulling a box of cookies off the shelf without asking myself, “is this really what i want or is the $4 better spent elsewhere?”

    the cookies stay on the shelf almost every time. those swindling girl scouts always manage to hit me up for 1/2 dozen boxes of somoas, though. =P

  15. @edrebber: That’s gonna be a bit tough for milk and bread…

  16. Angryrider says:

    I buy my groceries in cash. Limit how much cash you’re going to bring to the market, and that’ll help with the control.

  17. Thorgryn says:

    Eat before going shopping, if you are hungry, everything looks tasty and you are more likely to buy it.

  18. bohemian says:

    @mannyv: Some of the big shopping sites aleady have that for any web enabled phone. No iphone needed.

  19. bohemian says:

    Shop with a list. This goes double for stores like Target. Focus on gett
    ing what is on the list and finding the easiest way to get to the next thing on your list. I try to write items down in order of where they are located so I can do a quick loop around the store.
    I make a list when shopping for clothes too. I try to have an idea of what I really need to add or replace and go looking for that specific item. It keeps you from roaming and finding something you think you gotta have but don’t really need.

    @TangDrinker: I look at Habitat first if we need something for the house. I have found tons of new still in the box items in there for dirt cheap.

  20. Trai_Dep says:

    #4: Carry that adorable kitty under one arm while shopping. You’ll attract a TON of attention (the nice kind (wink, wink)) and only have one arm to shop with. Yeah: kudos for the photo, Consumerist!

  21. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    @edrebber: here here!

  22. infoape says:

    “1. Shop With A Timer: Avoid wasteful and expensive browsing by sticking a live cat in your bag or cart . You’ll know it’s time to leave when the cat starts clawing at your leg or makes a scene trying to escape.”

  23. jonworld says:

    One really helpful tip: When grocery shopping, eat BEFORE you go shopping. This ensures you will not make any impulse buys because of your hunger.

  24. Trai_Dep says:

    @infoape: Or an autistic child.
    (Oh gods, I didn’t just say that, did I?

  25. Birki says:

    Set budgets for certain categories – for instance, I allow $100 per season (fall, winter…)for clothes. Have an impulse buy budget, say $20 a month, for trips to Target and/or the grocery store. If an impulse buy is over $20, it should come out of a different budget category you’ve set such as Home Accessories or Clothes. I also recommend scouting Goodwill for basic clothing items such as khakis, jeans, basic black sweaters, workout pants. Goodwill usually has many of these items in pretty good shape for less than $4 each.

  26. Morticia says:

    It’s a great feeling to know that you’ve resisted the retail temptation. You feel more in control.

    For the past year I’ve been after a couple of bedside units – they were $450.00 each (about $200 US) and I managed to get them on sale (flawed but I couldn’t see it) for $80.00 each. That was such a buzz that (a) I hadn’t hiked up my credit card and (b) my patience was rewarded.

    Plus after a year and still wanting them I knew I was buying well, whereas there have been times I’ve wanted somthing and then gone off the idea after a few weeks. Either way you win if only you have the patience. This instant self gratification we have needs to be reigned in a bit.

    Having said all this I’m off shopping now. Wish me luck.

    (Varro, I don’t understand people who breed pets when there are so many homeless loving cats and dogs out there either).

  27. Morticia says:

    Ooops wrong thread.

  28. ironchef says:

    how about avoiding a store all together until you have a formal shopping list?

  29. xnihilx says:

    carry around angry kitteh with you?

  30. RandomHookup says:

    @BaysideWrestling: Not impossible. Always hit the day-old bread rack. Freeze loaves when you get a really good deal. Milk is harder to save on because of shelf life, but there are coupons for milk (in many, but not all states). Dried milk and soy milk can also be options. I have a bunch of nearly free shelf-stable soy milk. It’s even possible to freeze milk, though it takes some work.

  31. Ikky says:

    Look at the Sunday ads. Many stores, such as Wal-Mart, price match. Also, try to shop mornings. Things are slower and you’ll have more time to compare prices, check sales racks, and get the best prices. Write down prices as you go. The computer isn’t always right. Check for tags. (All of Mondays, until 5 ish, are usually slow, too.)

    Saturday or Sunday morning, fine. Otherwise, the weekend is a bad time to shop. No, 8-10 pm isn’t such a good idea. (Overnight, again, good. I love people who appear at 6 am when I’m working the 6am-2pm shift. I’ll take multiple carts at 6 am!)

    At Wal-Mart, this week, 70 page spiral notebooks were sold for FIVE CENTS. No limits. A lot of school supplies were also sold at a very low price. And, no limit. A lot of T-shirts, hats (winter and baseball) and belts were being sold at $1 each today. Meat is marked down daily. Use it or freeze it.

    If you use a Wal-Mart gift card or Wal-Mart credit card, you can save THREE CENTS a gallon on gas. While that may not seem like much on one tank, over the course of a year, it adds up.

    I am a cashier, yes, at Wal-Mart. I make mistakes. At time, without intention, items get double scanned. Watch the check out! Also, some price changes, clearance items, etc., don’t get into the computer. Take those instant off coupons off product and hand them to the checkout. When you check out, watch. Please, if you think something is wrong, speak up. It is easy to fix before the checkout/payment/receipt is complete. (We keep our jobs and get raises based on our checkout items per hour. Speed counts.)

    Those coupons add up. Use them. Also use the store ad coupons. Print out the product code from the company website. They are usually better than those from the paper. Coupons work! Use them.

    ALDIs always has great prices. Milk is $1 less a gallon. Day old bread at many dollar stores. Bread freezes. Comparison shop.

    On a personal note, please, the little lanes with the little table, and few bags are for small purchases, limited items. You know, the lanes with the QUICK, or FAST, or 20 ITEMS OR LESS… While I’m cool with 30 items, I have to be worried when you appear with multiple carts/buggies. (I’m a Yankee who has lived long in the south.) It works better for you, too.

    A new cashier is clueless. Be kind. (I ended up at Wal-Mart after a nasty divorce and he hid money.) Be kind. We get good, fast.