How to Really Shop and Save Money
by Kevin Sun
Many Canadian stores advertise “shop more and save” style promotions that entice people with the idea of spending money to save money. While these “special” deals can certainly be taken advantage of, it’s up to shoppers to make sure they actually save cash, not just spend more of it. Knowing how to shop and save money at the same time isn’t just about hunting down bonus offers, online flyers, or weekly sales ads. It’s also about staying focused on what you need to buy, not what stores want you to purchase. Here’s how to shop and really save:
Shop Smart with a Plan to Save Money
Did you know that a good way to save on food is to shop on a full stomach? That’s because when you’re hungry, everything will look tasty, which can tempt you into buying food you don’t need. When you wait until you’re in the store to make decisions about what to buy, you make it harder for yourself to avoid unnecessary purchases. Of course, the less money you spend on what you don’t need, the more you’ll save for what you do need.
Take some decision-making out of the store and plan to save money by making a budget. The goal of a budget is to make sure there isn’t more money leaving your household than there is coming in. Use your budget as a guide to figure out how much to spend on groceries, clothes, and other shopping needs. For example, a family of 3 might plan to spend $800 a month on groceries and $100 a month on entertainment. This helps prevent overspending in specific categories; after all, even if they accidentally spend $500 on entertainment one month, that doesn’t mean they can just cut their grocery budget in half to compensate.
The more specific you can make your spending plan, the better. So maybe the family of 3 breaks their $800 for groceries down into $650 on food for main meals, $75 on snacks, and $75 on toiletries. As a family activity, they could figure out each week what groceries they need, check that buying those works for their budget, and make a separate shopping list for every planned trip to the store.
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Guiding your shopping behaviour with a spending plan is one of the best ways to help save money and avoid debt. Planning ahead can also save you a lot of time as well. If you know exactly what you need in a month and what stores to get them in, then instead of driving to those locations every week, could you make a bigger shopping trip every 2 weeks, or even once a month? This translates to less gas spent, less time on the road, and less time at the aisles. Remember: time is also worth money.
While Shopping, Stick to the Plan and Save
Making a plan to shop and save is only half the battle – you also need to put that plan into action. After arming yourself with shopping lists that fit your budget, your goal while shopping is to only buy what’s on your lists. This rule must be followed whether you’re at the mall, your favourite food store, a pharmacy you stopped by late at night, or a random market near you that you just wandered into. However, a bit of flexibility might be needed. Maybe you find that something you planned to buy is sold out or got an unexpected price hike. Maybe you’ve been so busy this week that you’re not even sure what time you can get to the grocery store and instead have to rely on take-out for a few days. Maybe fluctuating gas prices have you rethinking when you should fill up the tank.
So long as you don’t spend more money than you have in your budget, it’s okay to shift some expenses around. Maybe that pricier item can be replaced with a cheaper alternative. Maybe you can skip skipping the dishes for a few months to make up for that take-out binge. However, if going over the budget you set for yourself does become a trend, then you’ll have to either change your spending habits or change your budget. Even if your plan goes great, there’s nothing wrong with trying to make it better.
Motivate Yourself with S.M.A.R.T. Savings Goals
Beware of Spend More and Save Deals
Here’s the reality of “spend more and save” deals. If you were already planning to buy something and take advantage of a good deal, then you save money. If you buy more of something than you were planning to because it’s on sale, then you could end up not saving any money. If you buy something that you weren’t planning to buy at all just because it’s on sale, then you lose money.
When you let retail companies control your spending (through promotional sales, ads, flyers, etc.), you become vulnerable to impulse spending and can develop a dangerous habit of buying things you don’t need. The trick to preventing this while still taking advantage of great deals is once again to always let your budget be your guide. Whenever you get excited about seeing an item on sale, take a deep breath and check your shopping list to see if you really need it. Then ask yourself this simple but very important question: If it weren’t on sale, would you still buy it?
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How to Get Help with Making a Budget to Save While Shopping
Having a spending plan will help you save money while shopping, but building a budget to support that can be easier said than done. If you’re struggling with making a budget that works, want advice about your household finances, or just need a second opinion, a non-profit credit counselling organization would be happy to help. An experienced counsellor can help review your situation, answer your questions, and help you achieve your financial goals in a completely confidential appointment. And unlike “shop and save” deals, no spending is required!