13 Savvy Shopping Tricks You’ll Wish You Knew All Along
The bad news: You're probably overpaying every time you buy something. The really good news: We're about to change all that. Save a bundle with these surprisingly simple and smart shopping strategies.
Look for trade-in programs
It's painful to toss an old item that you once paid a pretty penny for, but such is the life cycle of shopping…or is it? With trade-in programs, you can get something for those previous purchases. Best Buy, for example, lets you exchange old electronics for store gift cards. And at Target, you can trade in your child's old car seat for a 20 percent off coupon to be used toward a new car seat at select times of the year (including two weeks in April as part of Earth Month). But always read the fine print: Target's last car-seat coupon had a use-by date just two weeks after the promotion's end, so if you're ready to trade, you should also be ready to buy. Check out these other secret store policies that will save you money.
Use price-tracking sites
Sometimes it's hard to know if you're getting a decent deal on an item. That's where price-tracking sites come in. They'll give you a product's price history and also alert you when it goes on sale. One great example is the quirkily named Camelcamelcamel, an Amazon-specific tracker. "You might get a sense of when this item has been discounted before and maybe anticipate when it will be discounted again," says Courtney Jespersen, a consumer savings specialist at NerdWallet. "Then you can decide if you should wait for the price to come down, or maybe you'll think, 'Wow, this is really a good discount compared to the past six months, so I'd better act on it right now.'"
Let browser extensions do the couponing for you
Aside from letting you shop in your pajamas, online shopping offers another invaluable perk: using technology that automatically applies coupons to your purchase. Yes, you read that right. You don't have to search the Web to find the coupon codes. They'll come to you if you install a savings-oriented browser extension. Two of Jespersen's tool-bar favorites? Honey and ebates, the latter of which also offers cash-back options. "Click a button and they'll tell you they've found these coupons—and try them for you," she says. "It's one less step for the shopper." Don't miss these 8 other savvy new ways to save big when you shop online.
Ask if you get any freebies with your purchase
Expenses don't always end when you buy something. You might need alterations, adjustments or upkeep—and you might not have to pay extra for them. At Dick's Sporting Goods, if you buy hockey or figure skates, you can get free sharpening, and a tennis racquet purchase entitles you to future restringing. The freebies also apply to bikes, golf clubs, fishing gear, archery equipment, and more. Not terribly sporty? Clothing alterations are also free at certain stores. Nordstrom, for example, offers free tailoring on full-price purchases, while J.Crew offers the same if you also have a store credit card. Just make sure to keep your receipts and present them at the store when requesting one of these services.
Inquire about military, teacher, student, and senior discounts
As the saying goes, membership has its privileges. In this case, you could be looking at some serious discounts just because you're you. Ask at the register, or better yet, do a little sleuthing before you go. According to Jespersen, it's as easy as googling the name of the store with your specific proposed discount. If a discount is offered, the information should be on the website, and then all you have to do is show your credentials at the register or input them online. "These discounts are out there," she says, "so if you can get a better price, why not? It doesn't hurt to ask." Check out these 29 other ways to get great deals on anything.
Take advantage of store apps
Never leave home without your smartphone—especially when you're going shopping. While some store apps will simply notify you of the latest deals and let you rack up rewards points, others will play a more active role in your savings. Jespersen cites the Walmart app's Savings Catch as a good example: "Scan your receipt, and the app will check for any items sold [by local competitors] at a lower price. If it finds any, you get a refund." The only catch? This generally only applies to in-store purchases of toiletries, household items, and groceries. Still, your accrued Rewards Dollars can be used for anything. Cartwheel by Target is another must-have, with its up-to-the-minute, scannable coupons.
Shop the semi-annual sales
When they're not happening, it's easy to forget about these blowout sales that happen twice a year, usually right after the winter holidays and then again in the summer. But if you've got a big-ticket item to purchase and don't necessarily need the latest, fresh-out-of-the-factory model, you should bide your time. Jespersen advises: "If you're on a store's mailing list or follow the store on social media, that's where you'll find great announcements about a sale." Most stores will tease the sales well ahead of time, but if you're hoping to score at Victoria's Secret, Jespersen says that you've got to pay attention: The exact dates aren't announced until right before the sale starts, but it's worth it, especially in summer, because you can find discounted swimwear in addition to pretty underthings.
Buy discounted gift cards
This is a thing—and it's totally legit. The Krazy Coupon Lady suggests using sites like Raise, Gift Card Granny, and Cardpool, all of which let you buy and sell gift cards to national retailers for around 80 percent of a card's value. You can do all of this instantly and for free on the sites' apps. If you can't find the store you're looking for, check to see if you can use a gift card from a related store. For example, if you have a Gap gift card, you can use it at any stores under the company umbrella—Old Navy, Athleta, or Banana Republic.
Shop out of season
If you've ever been in the candy section of a drugstore the day after Valentine's Day, you know that you can get some great deals once a holiday is over. That goes for all holidays and for much bigger purchases, so if you can put a little money aside for these deals, do it. Jespersen calls out Target as one of her favorite places to get steep post-holiday clearance sales. And keep in mind that for retailers, summer is also a holiday. At Lowe's, you'll see 50 percent off sales on outdoor furniture in July…and 75 percent off sales in September. In the meantime, break out the picnic blankets and bide your time, because markdowns like that are definitely worth the wait. Check out these 8 money-saving secrets Home Depot employees want you to know.
Look for guarantees—just in case
Some retailers will offer a refund or exchange if you're not 100 percent satisfied with your purchase within a certain period of time. Home Depot, for example, guarantees perennials, trees, and shrubs for up to one year, while Lands' End and Eddie Bauer will honor that satisfaction guarantee forever. L.L. Bean used to offer a lifetime guarantee as well, but recently revoked it after customer abuses; they now offer a one-year policy.