Just a few notes on some shopping hints I’ve picked up over the years. My best advice is to remain open-minded, and remember that you don’t always have to follow someone else’s directions.
- Find cookware in unusual places. I’ve found good quality, name brand frying pans and cookware at Goodwill, Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, Ross, and charity thrift stores. My Braun immersion blender cost $4 and I bought it at a charity thrift store (normally $30 and up anywhere else). My George Foreman grill was $5 and I got it from Salvation Army. My Farberware frying pans were $2, $3, and $3.50 and I got them from Goodwill. My everyday sauce pans with glass lids were $4.99 each and I got them from Marshall’s.
- Processed, packaged food does not have to be made the way the directions say to make them. In fact, you can often do healthier, heartier meals by using them in different ways than they are intended. For example, I picked up several boxes of Betty Crocker potato mixes at pennies in a recent sale. The potatoes are dried, and the sauce packets are separate, so you don’t have to fix it the way the package says to. I took the package of dried potatoes and made them into a casserole with lots of vegetables and a sauce of chicken stock, seasoning, and milk to make a very low-calorie and higher nutrient rich side dish.
- Know measurements and sizing to save the most money. There was a recent sale at Sears on footwear, and I found that the men’s running shoes were consistently lower in price than the women’s. I’m a size 8-1/2 in women’s, but can wear a size 7 in men’s. I got plain black running shoes in the men’s department for $20 less than the comparable shoe in the women’s department.
- Similar thing to keep in mind – if you shop a half-size above your size in things like boots and sneakers, and just keep in mind those are shoes you’ll probably be wearing with thick socks, you might have the chance to save some money. Sizes 7-1/2, 8, and 8-1/2 are very popular sizes. Size 9 is not. I will often find shoes I really like in a size 9 and just know that those are the shoes I’ll be wearing thick socks for. So, those are my winter shoes, boots, and booties. Perfect, because I’d rather wear warm socks for those months anyway.
- Always check the clearance section in every store, you might be surprised. I have found hand lotion, antibacterial soap, single-serve coffee, kleenex, and toilet paper at huge discounts in the clearance departments of office supply stores (most major stores will have “breakroom” supplies like that). I have found name-brand hair products, insect repellent, pet supplies, and school supplies discounted at grocery stores. I have found seasonal clothing, gift baskets, specialty foods, and cute costume jewelry in the clearance bins at Rite-Aid and CVS. If you are open-minded to the possibilities, there are opportunities everywhere.
- Don’t miss out on roadside stands, salvage markets, and flea markets. I have been to auctions where truckloads of grocery-store-bound merchandise was auctioned off at pennies on the dollar due to a rejection of an order, over-ordering, or damage to merchandise that was only cosmetic but caused the truckload to be rejected. The delivery companies don’t just shrug and go home, they will unload the merchandise at secondary markets – the ones with hand-lettered signs or temporary booths at a flea market. There is a salvage market I regularly patronize that sells snacks for 1/2 to 1/6 the price of the grocery store – and it’s all the same stuff. My son likes beef jerky, which can be $6 a bag. This store sells the exact same name brands for $1 a bag. My husband likes certain kinds of granola bars, that sell in boxes of 5 for $2.99 at the grocery store. I get them at the salvage store at 6 for $1.
- Re-use your grocery bags. Some stores, like Bi-Lo, will credit you 5 cents per bag for using your own bags.
- Watch for opportunities to substitute in recipes. Because I like to try new recipes, I’m always checking online for ideas. However, I don’t shop according to recipes, I use recipes according to the ingredients I have on hand. So, I’m always looking for equivalents and substitutes. I have found that there are many guides online for substituting, which can really teach you a lot about cooking and being frugal and versatile in the kitchen.
- Food makes great gifts. If you are shopping for someone who lives out of state and that you don’t see often, or someone you don’t know as well, or someone who financially is not in need of a gift but that you want to give them a gift, make something and give it to them. Everyone likes cookies and cookie-type stuff like brownies, coffee cakes, cinnamon rolls, fruit tarts, etc. I make a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough ahead of time, break it into 5 sections (since the batch makes 5 dozen) and freeze it in baggies, so I can take out a baggie, thaw it, and spoon it into pieces and cook it in 15 minutes. Put it on a paper plate and wrap it in clear wrap, then tie with a ribbon, or put some fun stickers on it, or a “thank you” card, or a “happy birthday” card, or a “get well” card taped to the top. You go from zero to seriously awesome gift in less than 30 minutes.
- Food also makes great charity. There’s always some collection or cause, or someone you know who needs help, or a family that’s experienced a death, or some young person or couple that just moved out on their own, and a box or basket with basic pantry food would be welcome. if you’re getting things stockpiled at the lowest price, even on short notice you could throw some basic things in a box and be ready to gift/donate to someone in need without having to shop and get caught off guard with an unexpected expense.
- Watch for opportunities to get gift cards for those unexpected gifts, or for those times when you suddenly need to shop and don’t have the budget for it. I have at least six in my wallet right now that I can either give to someone or use to shop if I need it – a gas card, a retail store card (Sears), a clothing/accessory one (Old Navy), a food one (Subway), a home improvement/garden one (Home Depot), a household products one (Anna’s Linens). I’m covered for everything with those, and I got them all at least 8% to 30% discount, so no matter what I have to buy, I’m not going to pay full price, and I might not have any additional costs at all if I stay within the gift card amount so there’s no need to blow my weekly budget even if something suddenly comes up.
Surprises and unexpected expenses are your worst budget-busters. Being just a bit prepared, or open-minded, or ready to take a little more time and make a little more effort, will save you money. If you have any good tips, be sure to post them in the comments below!