Sticking to a budget is hard, especially when you love to shop. I have 8 budget-friendly shopping tips that are sure to help you maintain your financial goal while still indulging a bit!
I am TERRIBLE at budgeting. Terrible with money in general really. It has been an ongoing joke with my family since I was a teenager. When it came to bills, my motto was “out of sight, out of mind.” Savings account? What was that?! Of course, this didn’t mean I didn’t like to SPEND money. I’ve always been one to indulge in the occasional session of retail therapy. Not that I am a big spender, but all those little occasional trips to Target and the mall certainly add up!
When I got married, I breathed a sigh of relief–finally, someone else could manage my finances! Whew! My husband–what a trooper–pretty much single-handedly turned my dismal credit score into something respectable. As a family, we (mostly he) worked hard to pay off debt and save for important purchases (like a house) and emergencies. I worked hard at my teaching job, tried not to spend too much shopping, and happily abdicated basically all financial responsibility.
Once I decided to stay home with my kiddos, I HAD to take a more active role in our day-to-day finances.
My husband had always handled the major bills and the long-term, big-picture planning, but now it would be up to me to manage the mundane daily and weekly expenditures in our household budget. In order to accommodate our smaller income and still achieve our goals of paying off debt and saving for retirement, we decided to stick to a fairly moderate weekly budget for groceries, gas, and incidentals.
In order to stay within the confines of our weekly allowance while still buying what we needed (and satisfy my shopaholic tendencies), I took a two-pronged approach. First, I made a budget tracking spreadsheet and began to religiously TRACK my expenditures. Second, I began to focus on finding more creative ways to SAVE money. Not only did I learn a lot and save a ton, I actually ENJOYED budgeting!
Now, I want to impart my hard-won wisdom and the smart shopping tips and tricks I have learned over the last year! Below are my top 8 tips for saving money as you shop, and creating a little more wiggle room in any budget!
1. Amazon Prime
This is far and away the best way to save money in my opinion. If you are unfamiliar with Amazon Prime, for as little as $119 per year you get quite a few great benefits. Amazon is obviously known for its extensive collection of retail items. You can buy anything and everything on Amazon. Obviously, you can buy on Amazon without a Prime membership, but Prime members enjoy free two-day shipping (I DO NOT pay to ship) on a huge variety of items and access to special deals and promotions. You can also use Subscribe and Save for things like diapers, wipes, baby formula, toilet paper, etc. My one caution with Subscribe and Save is to do the price comparison research (and math) to make sure that you will actually be saving money.
In addition to shopping, Amazon is also a fantastic streaming service. You have access to a wide variety of movies and TV shows, video games, music, audiobooks, and Kindle books. In fact, we got rid of cable (Nearly $70 per month!) and just use Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Furthermore, Amazon also offers Prime Rewards–that is where we really saved money! Prime members can register for credit cards and debit cards that in-turn earn cash back. For example, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa is just like any Visa credit card, except you get 5% cash-back on Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market, 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores, and 1% everywhere else. We started using it for EVERYTHING and then making sure to pay it off each month. After Christmas shopping (90% of which was done on Amazon) we got nearly $100 back!
Still not convinced? You can try Amazon Prime free for 30 days! Just click here!
I LOVE Ibotta! Unsurprisingly, as a mom of growing kids with a husband as well, 90% of our weekly budget goes to groceries. Ibotta has a very user-friendly app that allows you to get cash back on a variety of products–many of them groceries. On Ibotta you can choose which stores you shop at the most and choose from a variety of deals and rewards. You can claim your rewards via uploading a receipt, through a linked store loyalty card, or through in-app purchases. Once you reach a minimum of $20 cash back Ibotta will pay you through PayPal or a gift card of your choosing. It’s pretty slick. You can earn additional cash through monthly and team challenges, and by referring friends.
The one caveat? Most of the “offers” on Ibotta are for brand-name products. All well and good, but sometimes it is still cheaper to buy the generic version even with the cash back. To really get the most bang for your buck I recommend carefully comparing offers to in-store items.
Sign up for Ibotta here!
Any online shoppers out there? Ebates is for you! This great website (and app) allows you to search tons of stores for coupons and cashback opportunities. Most of the offers are for online purchases (which I like because I live in a small town without tons of retail options), but they also offer some in-store cash back opportunities as well.
For online shopping, all you have to do is link to your favorite stores through the Ebates website or app. To get cash back in stores, you just need to “link” a specific offer to the credit card you plan on paying within the store. Once you have made your purchases, money is credited to your Ebates account. Once you reach a minimum payment balance of $5 you will receive your cash back is sent as a check or to PayPal at quarterly intervals.
Sign up for Ebates here!
4. Retail Rewards Cards
Obviously, these vary significantly depending on the retailer. I have had the most luck with grocery rewards cards (probably because 90% of my shopping is grocery shopping). Personally, I have a Safeway and a Ridley’s rewards card. I have earned free gas and been able to redeem points for in-store purchases and even a $25 Amazon gift card! You have to be diligent (scan your card EVERY time) and patient (those points can take a while to add up), but it is a simple way to get a little extra value from your grocery shopping trip.
I have also had luck with some other rewards cards and points systems. I have used Ace Hardware, Maurice’s, and Carter’s rewards programs to earn coupons and deals on various items.
5. Sales and Coupons
I’m not talking “extreme couponing” or anything crazy. If you are a coupon clipping connoisseur more power to you, I just don’t have it in me. I would recommend The Krazy Coupon Lady website and app. They “coupon ladies” do the legwork to find great deals and opportunities to apply coupons.
I do save the occasional coupon that comes on the back of a cereal box or container of macaroni and cheese. However, I prefer to keep my eye out for big sales and deals. I subscribe to several different store email lists and my inbox is constantly full of offers and promos. I monitor the weekly ad for my local grocery store and I shop (and menu plan) accordingly.
One of my favorite things is seasonal clearance at Walmart, K-Mart or Target. We moms know how fast our kids grow out of stuff. I am NOT going to spend a ton on a wardrobe they will only wear one season. I have had particularly good luck at Walmart. What I do is wait until they mark down the end of season leftovers to $1 and then I buy a bunch of stuff for my kids to wear NEXT year! It is very satisfying to open up a Rubbermaid tub and pull out a ready-set kid wardrobe that I paid less than $20 for!
You do have to be careful not to buy something ONLY because it is on sale. I have been guilty of this many times. Always stop and ask yourself if this is something you would be buying anyway or if it is something you really need.
6. Buy Bulk
You are probably thinking of stores like Sam’s Club and Costco? Not exactly what I had in mind. I’m sure they are great options, but I don’t personally use them. What I’m talking about here is buying the big 200 count box of diapers, even though it appears to cost more. You have to pay attention to the UNIT cost. How much are you paying per diaper? Whenever you can, I recommend buying the item with the lowest per unit cost (as long as it is a non-perishable that you will actually use).
Also, I have discovered the wonders of a magical thing called a case lot or pallet sale. My local grocery store has a case lot sale twice a year and I go crazy buying canned goods, toilet paper, and paper towels. It is so much fun!! They also usually have a deal on meat that is near it’s sell-by date–just freeze it!! As always, you do need to do a little price comparison research to make sure that you are really getting the best deal and you do need to be careful to only purchase what you will actually use. Stay tuned for a follow-up post all about the awesomeness of case lot sales!
7. Ditch Brand Names
Say it with me, “Great Value and Market Pantry are just fine.” At least most of the time. Some off-brand swaps are certainly easier than others. My Malt-O-Meal Cinnamon Toasters taste just as good as the real Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Great Value Cheez-Its taste just like real Cheez-Its, and milk is pretty much milk. It was amazing how much my grocery bill dropped when I started consciously choosing the off-brand version of products. That isn’t to say they were ALL were winners (stick with real Kraft Macaroni and Cheese), but I saved a ton and I rarely noticed the difference.
8. Thrift-Stores Are Where It’s At
Maybe it’s Marie Kondo, but thrift stores seem to have some legit loot right now! I just bought a pair of like-new Reebok tennis shoes for my daughter for $7! The Salvation Army and Goodwill are the classic second-hand stores, but there are many local options you can find with a quick Google search (shout out to the magical NU2U!). Many of these stores also offer consignment so you can make a little $$ by selling the clothing items that no longer “spark joy.”
If you haven’t checked out thredUp, you really should. They are an awesome online thrift store! You can order a Clean Out Bag kit and send in your own clothing to earn a little extra money or store credit or shop their huge selection of brand name, like-new clothing. Of course, if saving money and finding awesome deals isn’t reason enough to go “thrifting,” remember that you are also benefiting the environment!