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How to shop smart

Updated on August 27, 2016
Back from bargain shopping!
Back from bargain shopping! | Source

It's known as shopping

Whether we like it or not, we all need certain things in order to survive. In order to get most of those things, we end up having to shop for them. Some things we can get lucky and find on sale and others, well, they make the wallet cringe. It's bad enough we often have to fight the crowds at the supermarket and retail stores, let alone the money we have to hand over.

Sometimes it seems like we enter a battle of the quickest when going up and down the aisles. I'm talking about competing with other shoppers who are hunting for the same items we are. The holiday season is the worst time for this battle. There is just something about shopping that can bring out the worst in some of us.

Regardless of like or dislike, shopping is a necessity. We all need soap and trash bags at some point. Therefore, we hit the stores in search of what we need, at a price our budgets can hopefully handle.

This is where the fun can really begin for a bargain shopper. With so many choices available in every category imaginable, all you really need to decide is how much you want to pay for each item.

Bargain price, same cleaning power.
Bargain price, same cleaning power. | Source

Brand name vs. plain label

One of the very first things my mom taught me about shopping is the difference between a name brand and a plain label brand. Can you guess what the difference is? The answer is not much. In my twenty years of household shopping experience, I have tried numerous name brand products and their plain label counterparts.

At this point, I simply cannot justify paying more for name brands when plain label products do the job to my satisfaction. The added bonus with many plain label products is that I usually get a larger container, which lasts me longer. Why would I pay more to get less? I use the same amount of product each time, so that for me, is not a factor.

I can already hear some of you protesting that some plain label brands are "watered down" and don't work as good as brand names. I can't deny that some plain label products, like dish soap, may not be as thick as name brand products. However, consistency does not seem to have anything to do with how well the product works. As long as my dishes, clothes, etc. are clean I am a happy person.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using name brand products you trust. I use some myself. I do see a problem with spending extra money, that I often do not have, on name brands. I prefer to get more for my money. For example, I spend a dollar on my dish soap and it lasts me over a month (closer to two months) with everyday use. Why would I spend four dollars on a smaller container of dish soap that will only last a couple of weeks? I have experimented and found this to be true of most household cleaners.

Bath and beauty products on the other hand, are one of my exceptions. I prefer a certain brand of shampoo and body wash. These brands happen to be among the cheaper of name brands, but that is only a bonus for me. I will not compromise with my skin or hair due to sensitivity. The money I would save on bargain brands would be spent on allergy medicine! In this same category is laundry soap and fabric softener. I use certain cheaper name brands that do not cause allergic reactions.

Buying plain label products in some categories allows you buy other products in your preferred name brand, if necessary. You can often cut your shopping bill substantially simply by finding plain label products that work for you.


Where to find those bargains

There are certainly no shortages in shopping options. The problem is, where can you find the best deals? Do you really have to bounce from store to store in order to find prices you can afford? No, you do not have to waste time and money store hopping. Below are some good places for bargain shopping.

Discount stores

Most big box stores fall into this category. Discount stores offer products at a lower price than other stores. You can often choose between name brands and store brands (usually cheaper). The nice thing is even the name brand products are cheaper than say at your super market.

Discount stores are often heralded for being one stop shopping convenience. Some even have grocery departments so you can literally get everything you need in one store. Convenience and low prices, that's what shopping is all about for some of us.

Dollar stores

These are possibly the best places to find hidden bargains. I love to shop my local dollar stores for good deals on household cleaners and anything else I can check off of my shopping list. You can often find some name brand items even cheaper than a discount store. Dollar stores are the kings of plain and store label products. This means you rack up the savings.

A word of caution about some dollar store items: some are cheaply made. Sometimes you do get what you pay for. For example coffee makers sold at dollar stores. Some may last a long time and some may not last you a month.

I had this experience once a few years ago. I bought a cheap, no frills coffee maker and it only lasted me a month. I am an avid coffee drinker and do not want to continuously be replacing makers. They never seem to go out unless you are in desperate need of that morning cup of coffee! The point is to be careful what you purchase at a dollar store.

Wholesale outlets

Grocery outlets are especially nice. With some, you do not get fancy labels or name brands or even a bag to carry them home in. What you do get is food at rock bottom prices. Basically these places cut out all of the frills and just sell food. Bring your own box or bags and let the savings begin!


Yes, online shopping is not a new thing. However, it is becoming easier and more efficient. You can browse different retail websites and order what you want, whenever you want. The items are shipped to your door and voila! That's it. Some retailers even offer free shipping on orders over a certain amount.

Some online retailers offer free pickup at your local brick and mortar store. You place everything you want in the online shopping cart, pay for it and then pick the items up. This is nice because you don't have to walk up and down the aisles, stand in line to pay or wait for the items to be shipped.

Another nice thing about online shopping is that you can often get in on deals offered at low prices, exclusively online. These deals are not available in your local store. Deals like buy one get one free, discounts and items only sold online that are not carried by local stores.

Thrift and second hand shops

These are great places to find clothing, blankets, some small appliances, furniture and other household items. The neat thing about these gems is that you can often find items in nearly new condition. Another fun thing about wandering around second hand shops is that you can usually find some awesome vintage items, if you are into that sort of thing.

One piece of friendly advice about thrift and second hand shops: if you take things, donate things. Many of the items in these shops are donated and those kindhearted donations help the public that needs them. If you find yourself with items you don't want any more, please donate them.

Vacation photo
Vacation photo | Source

Money in the piggy bank

The money you can save by bargain shopping can make paying bills easier. It can also allow you to slowly save up for bigger things you need. You can also do like I do and put a little aside here and there in "Fun Fund". I can't sock away hundreds of dollars at a time to go on vacation or splurge on something nice for myself. I have to do it the old fashioned way and save a little at a time.

The saving may be slow going at times and may even become somewhat discouraging some months. However, after diligence and determination, the pay off is fabulous! I have saved for trips, concerts, electronics and even clothing. Shopping smart is just like putting money in the piggy bank.

© 2014 Tammy Cramblett


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