I talked about creating an email account to corral all the sale notifications and coupons without filling up your personal email account in the ABCs of Saving: Email Yourself Deals, so this is a kind of follow-up to that tip.
ABCs of saving
When you are standing in line with your stack of coupons and a line 5 people long behind you, the world of saving money can seem like a very lonely and small place. But I assure you, it is not. The network of penny-pinchers is vast and varied. You can increase your savings by tapping into it.
Have you ever gotten to the store to get that great deal and found out you missed something along the way? The deal is no longer available. Your coupon is expired. A piece is missing to get your best savings. Or, even worse,: have you ever gone to a store to get a deal with a coupon and walked away having spent more money than you thought you would because the deal didn’t work? The checker told you that you couldn’t use the coupon or the deal was not available on that particular product.
The best way to assure you get maximize your savings is by reading the fine print. And in the coupon/saving world, there can be quite a bit of fine print. Here are some things to highlight in the fine print so you can get the maximum savings possible.
Do you remember those American Express ads from the 80s and early 90s that said, “Don’t leave home without it?” I can’t recommend you follow their advice regarding their product, but I can recommend it when it comes to lists.
I get into more trouble financially when I walk into a store without a list. I always have. But the problem has grown worse lately (ahem…pregnancy and babies). I can literally discuss the items we are there to buy with my husband just outside the store, walk in the doors and ask, “Why are we here again?” It happens all the time! And my forgetfulness is expensive! I either overcompensate by buying a bunch of items I don’t really need or I don’t get anything and then get home and kick myself because I suddenly realize what I really needed (and I get to spend more gas money driving back to the store)!
The reasons for making a list are pretty obvious: they keep you on track on spending, they help you to remember to get all the items you truly need, and they force you to really consider what is necessary.
But have you considered which lists to make?
Here are some lists you can make that help you keep your finances on track:
Grocery This is a standard list. I always make mine on the front of an envelope, so I can put any necessary coupons inside. I make my list based on our weekly menu, after I have shopped my pantry. I also make the list after looking through the grocery ads (either print ads or online) making sure I can stock up on items that are at my buy it now price.
Household Goods This is a great list to keep on the refrigerator or close to the door where you leave the house. These are the items you need, but don’t necessarily buy in the same place you purchase groceries. When we have a list of a reasonable size, we plan on going to the store as a weekend outing with the family. Having the list helps keep us out of the store for every little item that comes up, in danger of impulse purchases.
Wish lists I talked about making a wish list in this post. But it bears repeating that having a list of items you really would like to have on hand will help you when you get to the store. Seeing an item that you just love, but don’t know where it would go in your house can be tempting. Those get it for a rainy day purchases often sit in closets, contribute to clutter, and become regretted purchases. You will save yourself money if you only buy items on the wish list. (TIP: Keep in mind the item on the wish list could be as unspecific as “a piece of furniture for the entryway” or “organization for under sinks”)
Meal Plans/Go-to Meals – This is a new one for me and I am working on creating a go-to list of meals. These are meals that can be prepared with less than 15 minutes prep time and require only a few items from the store. Keeping a list of these meals and the ingredients required on hand (even in your phone) can ward off the last-minute drive-thru desperation and keep your family fed with meals they love.
To Do/Priorities – This list will help you keep things straight when the temptation is there to get everything you need at once. This is part of holding off and having a plan. Keeping a list of the items you want and the things that need to get done in the house, by order of priority will help to keep you on track with your plan and save you money by not purchasing all the items on your wish list at once.
What lists do you take with you when you head out to the stores?
The best way to save money while having monthly expenses is to know the best price on the items you buy the most. Knowing the price where you will maximize your savings helps you to recognize the “buy it now” price and avoid only “average” savings. This helps you to decide when a good deal is a great deal. Use your knowledge for items you buy on a regular basis.
But knowing your price is not just for the items you buy on a regular basis. It is important to know the best prices on items that are big-ticket purchases as well. It just takes a different approach.
You may have been reading along in this series and have noticed I talk a lot about patience when it comes to spending money. We have talked about holding off and having a plan, about accepting the limits of your budget, about counting the cost before you make your purchases. Thus, today’s post may seem a bit out-of-place; but hear me out.
There is a specific point in time and a specific price where a purchase just makes sense. That’s why you should jump on a steal when you see it. But preparation is the key to making sure you don’t bust your budget, even on a really great deal! Here are some tips for planning those impulse shops.
Make a wish list. Every once in a while, walk through your house and make a list of the items you would like to have if your budget allowed. Think of the projects you would like to complete, the accents you would like to add, the items wearing out you would like to replace. Jot these down in a home notebook and tuck the list away somewhere handy. When you are shopping and you see something that catches your eye at a great price, if it is on the list, jump on it! The trick is to buy only things that you wanted anyway. Otherwise, we can find ourselves filling our homes with items that were a great deal, but don’t really fulfill a need or a desire. Having a wish list ahead of time can help clear your head when the thrill of a deal is compelling you to buy. If it is not on the list, it may not really be a good purchase for your home.
Know what you are shopping for. Good research goes a long way to saving you money in your home. Knowing key shopping times, store margins, and price cycles will help you identify when a deal is a steal. Are you shopping for a new electronic device? You might ask yourself some questions to determine the best time to buy: Would last year’s model do almost all the same things as this year’s model? How long would I have to wait for this year’s model to be at the same price as last year’s model? What incentives can I get for shopping elsewhere? Do I really need all the features of this model? The higher price the item, the longer your research process should last.
Have a bottom line price. This is the highest amount you are willing to pay for an item. What are new curtains worth to you? How much is too much for a new mattress? Setting a limit beforehand of what you are willing to spend helps you keep your finances in check when the excitement of a deal strikes. Make sure this limit is reasonable (you aren’t going to get a brand new car for $200) and firm. It can be very tempting to purchase something that is al-most at your target price, but really you should stick to your bottom line price and walk away from paying anything over it.
Set aside a little extra here and there. Even if you only set aside a little bit each week (say $5-10), you will have a little stash of cash for when the price is too good to resist. I save all the $5 bills that come into my hands. I do this with our regular cash system as well as my pocket-money. Sometimes it can be difficult to stash away those fives, but we have been able to make large purchases with our little stashes (a French door refrigerator and a car) and I purchased a laptop recently with the money I had been tucking away. If you have a goal of purchasing an item that seems a bit out of reach even at a steal, tucking away small amounts of money when you can will rein it in. When you see that steal of a price, you will be able to tuck into a store of cash (and add it to money you have on hand, if necessary) to jump on it!
Have a little wiggle room in your grocery budget or your household expenses budget for the great clearance finds or unadvertised specials you see when you are in the marketplace. Leaving a little margin in your budget will allow you to jump on the steals you see while you are out doing your regular shopping. When you see tomatoes or toothpaste at a rock-bottom price, you can stock up without guilt because you have a little bit of room in your budget. Just don’t go too far, only use up the wiggle room and only buy what you will actually use.
How do you react to a great deal at the store? Do you hold off or do you jump?