This is the time that many people wonder how they can minimize their financial output and retain some of what they earn. One way to do this, is by minimizing what you spend on the things you buy.
For instance... most people have to go to the grocery store. That, of course, involves spending copious amounts of money. Many people don't know, even, the basic "rules" for going grocery shopping... not going hungry and not taking children along (if you can help it). Those two things will save you a bundle. When you shop hungry, everything you see becomes appetizing. When you take the kiddos along, they tend to have a big case of the "gimmes" and "I wants." To avoid having this trouble, leave the kids with someone you trust.
Next... You want to be sure and scour your store's weekly sale circular/flyer. Not everything in the flyer is on sale, so... do, beware. If you haven't already, it is a wonderful idea to start a price book, for the grocery store. In this book (just a regular notebook), you will put the name of the store, the product you usually buy (peanut butter, cake mix, etc.), the size of the package and the price of the product. Then, on a separate day, you will go from store to store (including grocery stores, smaller supermarkets, Dollar stores, mass merchandisers, etc.), and fill in the columns with the appropriate information. What you are trying to do, is have a book full of products you buy regularly and all the accompanying information about each product. This will give you a general idea of which stores have the least expensive products. Then, we go back to the sales flyer.
With pricebook and flyer in hand, compare prices for each product you need. If some items are at a specific grocery store, while others are at the Dollar store, also calculate whether it would be worth it to drive across town to another store, just for a few products (if the store isn't near the grocery, say). This saves money, too.
When you know where you're going and what you're getting, determine whether or not you have coupons, rebates, etc. for any of the products you need. If so, take that along with you, as well.
Another point I'd like to make is regarding store brands. Today, there are so many, different store brand products out there... most of which are highly comparable to, if not better than, the higher priced, brand name items. I can speak for a few stores on this point (Aldi, Walmart, Kroger, Sav-A-Lot, Foodland, Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Family Dollar). Often-times, the store brand is quite a bit cheaper than a more expensive item and has very little difference. It's something to keep in mind.
I have a few "rules of thumb" when I go grocery shopping:
1.) I REFUSE to purchase anything at the grocery store that I can buy at the Dollar Tree. There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as... deodorant, feminine hygiene products and items they just don't carry. These are just a FEW things I buy from Dollar Tree (or similar store): aluminum foil, spices, flour tortillas, barbecue sauce, microfiber towels (use them for everything!), greeting cards, school supplies, office supplies, books (reading, coloring, word search, etc.), spray bottles, etc. I recently got some new bath towels and wash cloths there, and these were NICE... like Cannon or something you'd see from JCPenney! Of course, I paid $1 for each towel and each wash cloth. You can bet, I stocked up!
2.) I will NOT pay above $2 for a box of cereal. I made this rule of mine up a long time ago (just to see if I could do it;), and it has worked beautifully. We get twice as much cereal for HALF of what we used to pay. Of course, this is store brand cereal, but... we're not complaining;)
3.) I TRY to buy as few junk food items as I can (chips, cakes/cookies, soda, pre-made stuff).
Most of what we eat, I make from scratch... or, very close to it.
Another thing to watch out for, at the grocery store (well... ANY store, for that matter!), is getting over-charged for something/s. It happens way, more often than people think it does! It tends to happen when prices aren't marked, things are on sale (but the store "forgets" to put in the sale price of the item, instead of the regular price) and when people are in a hurry.
Watch the cashier ring up your purchases (if you're able), so you can catch these potential mistakes... before you leave the store. If you can't be right there before they start ringing stuff up, makes sure you go over your receipt thoroughly BEFORE you leave the store. That way, you can bring your receipt right back in the store and be reimbursed for the mistakes. If you happen to get home before you check your receipt, just call the store, ask for the manager and explain the problem. I've done that a couple of times, with no problems. You just take your receipt back to the store, take it to the customer service counter and you will be taken care of.
Aside from the few things I've already mentioned, we do save money on products/services in other ways. Bartering is a great way to save and still get something you need. For instance... if you work writing resumes for a living and you know someone who does woodwork, you could both sit down and work out an arrangement where you might help them with their resumes, while they make you that magazine rack you've been wanting. Services are traded (no money involved) and both people are happy. You can barter just about any service/work/hobby.
Another way to save is garage/yard sales. Most people are aware of this quirky pasttime. It's definitely not the same as it was when our parents were doing it;) Of course, most people know the retail prices for items at a yard sale. Don't be afraid to bargain with the owner, either. They almost always EXPECT this, as part of the sale atmosphere. If, by chance, your offer is turned down, politely ask if you may write down your name and phone number for them, in the event the item doesn't sell. You may get that bargain, afterall!
The same goes for flea markets. Just, walk around and look for things you need/want. Haggling for items here is expected, as well, so... don't feel bad/embarassed about it. It's o.k. I've even seen small grocery stores in larger flea markets. If you happen upon one of those, don't miss out. There are often bargains in here, as well.
With bigger purchases, I tend to do my research first... even before I go out looking for the item. Check online, and see which stores have the best price for the product you're looking for. Sometimes, you can even purchase the item less expensively online... instead of going to an actual brick and mortar store. One thing to keep in mind here, is... if the price is too much or you think you could get a better deal somewhere else, approach the store manager and take him aside for a "little talk." Mention to them that, you would love to buy XYZ from the store, but you were across town and saw the same item for 1/3 of that price. You could also say, "Can you do better than $499 on that?" Managers are used to hearing this question quite a bit. You can also tell them you have X amount of money, that you'd really love to have the XYZ and could he discount it enough so that you could purchase it.
Last summer, I took my then- 15-yr. old son to a store so he could purchase a video game. Turned out, the game he wanted was almost $20 more than what he had. He looked at me, of course, wondering if I'd pony-up the $20. I said no. He wasn't happy. I knew he really wanted the game and he'd saved his money to get it, so... I told him that I would talk to the manager. Of course, my son thought I was nuts;) I waited for the manager. When he arrived, I explained the situation to him... my son saved up his money to get the game, but it was a bit more expensive than we thought it would be. Then, I mentioned another store (across the street) that just happened to have the same game, but for less. I added how, I really didn't want to go back to that store. I'd rather buy it at his store. So... not only did he knock of the $20 that would've been extra. He also knocked of the sales tax, so it was actually UNDER what we were going to have to pay!
I looked at my son and, half-jokingly, said, "See, son. Dreams DO come true;)"