This is a continuation of my three-part series, “Money Saving Advice from a Compulsive Spender.” Check out Part 1 if you missed it!
Part Two: Shopping Skills for the Financial Idiot
In the first part of this little educational series, I talked about credit (or the lack thereof.) Now I’m going to share some shopping skills I’ve picked up and that I’ve been refining the past couple of months. My own personal goal has been to try to save money, which was only going to happen if I cut out some frivolous spending and shopped a little more wisely. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
Ask Yourself: Do I REALLY need this?
- If you ask yourself this question and answer honestly, I think you’ll be surprised how often the answer is “no.” A couple of months ago, I started to buy myself and iPod Touch. I had a little extra money, and I thought, “Why not?” Well, the better question was, “Why?” I have an iPod Classic which I have had for several years, but here’s the thing: it works fine, it holds more data than the Touch, and in all honesty, I don’t use it all that much. So why did I need it? I didn’t. Believe it or not, I didn’t buy it. Yay me!
- On a purchase like that, don’t buy it impulsively. Wait a day or two. I mean, it’s not like they’re going to quit making iPods or anything. Think about why you want it. Will you use it? Try to be honest with yourself. Lots of times you’ll talk yourself out of the purchase, and into a big savings.
- Everyone likes nice things, but what are you willing to sacrifice to have them? New shoes and fancy cars and all the latest techno gadgets are great, but are they worth damaging your credit, or taking away from a college savings? Every time I look at something I’d like to have, I just tell myself, “I can have this neat little thing at The Grandparent’s house, or I can not have it in my own home in a couple of years.” Let’s just say I don’t have to put a whole lot of thought into that choice.
- In other words, give yourself a very specific goal. Maybe you don’t want your kids to have to borrow money to go to college–that’s a great one. Maybe you want to be able to retire sometime before your 147th birthday. Maybe you want to buy (or build!) your forever home. Whatever it is, decide on it and keep it in your mind. For example, I have a stack of brochures from Lowe’s that have things like kitchen cabinets and bathtubs in them. I keep them on the book-case beside my bed, along with the sketches of the house we’d like to build. When I start getting bummed because we didn’t go to on a lake vacation this year, I just get those out and look through them and imagine my house. It may sound silly, but it helps.
Shop Smart: Yes, I use coupons!
Even if you do cut out compulsive spending, there are still a LOT of things that you have to buy. You may not be able to avoid buying them, but at least you can try to save as much as you can.
- SHOP ALONE! This may sound funny, but I’m dead serious. You might have heard people say not to take your kids along to the grocery store, but I’ll take it one step further: leave the spouse at home, too. My husband is terrible about picking up random things in the grocery store and dropping them in the buggy. He can turn even the most carefully planned shopping trip into so much smoking rubble. Try to shop alone at all costs. Make a list and stick to it. Go through your cabinets and pantry thoroughly to avoid missing something that you’ll have to make another stop for later in the week. Even worse–you’ll have to let your spouse run in after work to grab the forgotten item…..along with fifty bucks worth of “other stuff.” I’m not great at planning meals, but try to keep staples on hand so you can come up with something on the fly. You know what everyone likes. Look at your calendar to see if there’s a day you know you’ll be gone all day and won’t feel like cooking, and plan accordingly. It takes some getting used to, but if I can do it, so can you.
- Well, here it goes—-coupons, coupons, coupons! I don’t do the extreme couponing thing, because it doesn’t seem practical to me, but I do use coupons every single week. If in doubt, clip it out! To step it up a notch, look through the sale papers every Sunday, and match coupons to sales. Hold on to the coupons for a while before you use them (unless there’s a great deal!) because sometimes an item will go on sale a couple of weeks after the coupon came out. You can check out The Coupon Mom, a great site that lists sales by store and state, and tells you if there are coupons to go along with it. Still, check out the sale papers yourself, and keep your coupons organized, because I have found some that she missed.
- Like I said, I don’t do extreme couponing. I’ve never bought 100 of anything. Still, if I get a really good coupon, sometimes I will stock up. You can actually buy pre-clipped coupons from sites like The Coupon Clippers, which is the one I use, for a few cents. This may sound strange, but some people buy four or five Sunday papers, which is much more costly than just ordering the coupons. I never spend more than three or four dollars a week, or around 15 dollars a month. I got five Wisk coupons that were $2.00 off. I love Wisk, and we use a ton of laundry detergent around here. Wisk went on sale at Dollar General for $4.00. (It’s $4.97 at Wal-Mart.) So I bought five. I saved a lot more than I spend on the coupons, and that’s just on the Wisk.
- Having said that, be wise with your coupon shopping. Sometimes, even on-sale items are still cheaper at Wal-Mart. Some people don’t like Wal-Mart, but my purse dictates my shopping. Know the prices of the things you buy most often. You may be able to use your coupons at Wal-Mart and get it cheaper, even if it is on sale somewhere else. The only exception is Kroger, which doubles coupons that are 50 cents or less.
- That’s another point–know your store’s coupon policy. For example, Kroger does that doubling thing, but only paper coupons. They do NOT double the electronic coupons you can load to your Kroger shopping card at kroger.com. The electronic coupon comes off first, so then you can’t use your paper coupon, and therefore can’t double it.
- Don’t buy a bunch of stuff you aren’t going to use. Health and beauty stuff usually has the best deals, but still, if you don’t use it, you wasted the money, even if it was a big sale. That’s where I don’t really get the extreme couponing thing. One woman bought all of these cat treats because she got them for like fifty cents or something, but guess what? She didn’t have a cat. Enough said.
- Put off back-to-school shopping until after school starts. Your kids should have some warm-weather clothes from the end of school the previous year, and it will still be warm when school starts. Let them start in those. Then in a few weeks, there will be more selection and sometimes much better prices on jeans and tennis shoes and the like. You don’t have to buy your kids a whole new wardrobe every year at school time!
- Though this doesn’t have anything to do with coupons or shopping, it is a pet peeve of mine. Have clothes and shoes that are designated for school or going out, and clothes and shoes that are play clothes. Why oh why would you pay thirty or forty dollars (or more!) for a pair of tennis shoes, and then let your kids go outside and wade in the creek and tramp through the mud in them? DUH! At least they can maybe get a little more wear out of them.
If you’ve managed to stick with me this far, then stay tuned for the final installment, Save it, then keep your filthy paws out of it!
(I promise once I’ve finished this, I’ll go back to my usual standard of pointless ranting and smart-assery.)