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Think you can't trim your shopping tab any more than you already have? Oh, yes, you can. Here are 10 ways to ensure that you're getting the rock-bottom price on whatever you buy. But this list is only a start: Please divulge your best savings strategies in the "comments" box below to make this page a fiscal recovery plan for the masses.
1. Make a list. Really. Do it. Committing your shopping list to paper will keep you focused and at least feel a little guilty when you start tossing impulse purchases in your shopping cart while standing in the checkout line. And, yes, jotting down an item while at the store and crossing it off the list right away is technically cheating.
2. Go for big-ticket savings. No need to drive around all day to find the best price on frozen peas or cling wrap. Concentrate your cost-cutting first on high-dollar purchases -- for example, make it a rule to check three sources for anything that costs more than $50. Then tackle the smaller stuff as time, energy, and sanity allows.
3. Do some retail recon. You won't know if you're getting a real bargain or a dud deal unless you have some pricing history for comparison. Many stores don't include an item's original price in their advertising circulars. If the original markup was helium-high, even 50% off is hardly a "sale." Keep a folder for sales circulars on items of interest.
4. Make merchants play good cop/bad cop. Flash your cash and a competitor's lower advertised price (you'll need physical proof) and many stores will match the price. Don't get too cocky, though. Most will honor coupons or sale prices only if they have the exact item in stock.
5. Don't dismiss small chains and mom-and-pop stores. They are often willing to meet or beat a big-box retailer's advertised price or provide free add-ons when presented with firm evidence and a ready purchaser.
6. Compare clicks and mortar. Does your favorite store have an online outlet? Sign up for its newsletter for advance notice of sales and subscriber-only coupons. Also compare online and offline prices -- they aren't always identical.
7. Know the code. If you shop online, don't leave money on the table by leaving the "enter promotional code here" box blank. Get the scoop on possible savings at Currentcodes.com, RetailMeNot.com and Dealnews.com/coupons, or type the retailer's name and "coupon code" in your search engine.
8. Don't get suckered by the upsell. Skip the extended warranty, which can pad the price of the item by 10% to 30%. With just a few exceptions -- such as treadmills and big-screen plasma TVs, according to Consumer Reports -- warranties are rarely worth the extra price. If you feel the need to purchase extra protection, pay no more than 15% of the product's price, and buy the manufacturer's warranty, not the store's version.
9. Stand in the "Returns/Exchanges" line. Retailers are becoming a lot stricter about their return policies. But if the store offers price adjustments for previous purchases (with limits) on big-ticket items, make a note to re-shop the item after a week or two to see if there have been markdowns. And when shopping for seasonal merchandise, it obviously pays to wait until late in the season to make a purchase, if you can hold out.
And finally, the No. 1 way to curb the urge to splurge:
10. Go on an all-cash diet. Yes, credit cards are convenient -- they offer purchase protection, rewards, and an easy way to track your spending (albeit after the damage is done), and they take up less wallet room than cash. But they're also too convenient. Studies show that people spend more -- and more impulsively -- when no actual cash changes hands. Plastic makes us devalue what we spend because we don't experience the immediate loss of buying power that we do when we pay with cash. (Why do you think they use poker chips and not actual currency in Vegas?) If you tend to overspend, leaving your credit cards at home and paying with cold, hard cash can be a serious boon to your bottom line.
For 20 more money-saving tips, see our Fiscal Fitness '09 series, where we show you how to find more than $2,000 in savings on everything from your cable TV bill and your taxes to those pricey prescription drugs.
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