Friday, October 16, 2015

Frugal Fridays: 4 Stupid Reasons Not to Compare Before You Buy (and how to avoid them)

Here is the third installment of my Frugal Fridays series.  The others are here and here if you missed them.

Reasons Why I, on occasion, Break My Own Rules and Don't Comparison Shop:

See, I know that I should care about how much my bananas cost or where I can buy the best bananas on the cheap.  But sometimes I just need them.  Now.  Like when my toddler is insistent that we MUST have bananas at all times in the house. . . even though they usually end up overripe and in the freezer waiting for the day that I will eventually, at some point, turn them into banana bread.  And then I don't comparison shop.  So here are some barriers to comparison shopping and how to overcome them.

1.  But I need it now!!
It happens.  You're out and about and realize you just used the last tampon (sorry - tmi?).  Or you have guests on their way over and your dining room light burnt out and you don't have a bulb.  The emergency shopping trip is usually exempt from comparison shopping.  For obvious reasons right?

2.  I'm not driving all over town for this.  I'll spend more in gas than I'll ever save!
Yup.  Sometimes I buy groceries at the "expensive grocery store" instead of my standard "grocery store for cheap people".  Usually it's because I need something kind of fancy, like fresh fish or fancy mushrooms.  While I don't buy those things often, I also don't have enough time in my life to do groceries at 2 different stores.  3 if we need to hit the health food store that week (for tempeh, because that's almost always why I go there).  4 if it's a Costco week.  Minimizing the amount of stops on an errand run is good for the environment and also for your gas tank. . . so, good for your wallet too.

3.  We only have, like, two major retailers in town.  Why bother?
I get it.  If you live in a small community, it can be really hard to find a store that sells, say toddler size 8 soccer cleats.  So sometimes you have to go with what you can find, in the price you can find it for.

4.  That involves way too much math for me right now.
It does.  Effective comparison shopping does require math.  Sometimes I'm not in the mood for math.  Or sometimes the math is a little too much for my mommy-addled brain to do in my head.  Don't judge :)

And How I (Usually) Avoid Falling Prey to the Above (Stupid) Reasons Not to Comparison Shop:

1.  Ah, the emergency shop!
In an emergency, the extent of my comparison shopping usually involves looking at the other items on the same shelf and grabbing the cheapest one.  But the real key here is to avoid getting myself into an emergency to begin with.  How?
  • plan meals and make a list of needed groceries. . . then follow that list so you're sure to have what you need, when you need it
  • post your grocery list in a prominent place and as you're getting low on staples (olive oil, eggs, whatever you tend to use a lot), add it to the list so you don't forget and run out
  • buy large quantities of shelf-stable food, paper, household and cleaning products that you will go through quickly (stock up when they're on sale and re-stock when you're down to the last back-up) - remember to take your storage space into account (thankfully I have lots, lol)
  • assess clothing needs seasonally - especially if you have kids! Last year's boots probably won't fit so pick up new ones before the first snowfall (instead of running out in the evening to pick up shoes for school); the same goes for socks, coats, etc.
  • I also like to pack up clothes at the end of the season that won't fit next year and pick up replacements in a larger size at season-ending sales when possible (it's easier when your kids are little enough to size up with some regularity)
  • plan ahead for Christmas and birthday gifts instead of running out to the mall the day before (I start a spreadsheet around Thanksgiving but you don't have to be crazy too); have a few generic ones in a closet or cupboard just in case someone surprises you with a gift you weren't expecting
  • do you have a crafty side? love to bake/cook? people love beautifully packaged handmade gifts - look how much these items cost on sites like Etsy! And making them yourself not only says "you're special to me". . . it can also save you some money :)

2.  Maximize shopping, minimize driving
It does pay to minimize your trips.  And grocery shopping is the one area when I freely admit to avoiding going to a less expensive place if I know they won't have everything I need.  But when it comes to other items, I can still do a decent comparison before deciding where to go. . . or I can avoid going anywhere at all.  How?  The Internet :) This is less for perishables (because that would be silly) but I do buy. . . umm. . . everything else online with some regularity.
  • If I must go to a brick and mortar store, I check out a few stores' websites before I go anywhere.  Many big stores have all of their products available online so it's really easy to compare
  • Flyers and coupons can be handy too and there are some apps out there that eliminate the tedium of leafing through paper copies
  • I pull up the same item from different stores using a few tabs in my browser (the tabs make it easy to go back and forth)
  • Then, if it's available online, I check out the cost of shipping.  Many stores offer free shipping (or free shipping over a certain dollar value). . . and that's awesome.  If shipping is free (or cheap) or if the item is significantly cheaper to get shipped from somewhere else, I buy it online.
  • Not expensive enough for free shipping? Does this store sell staples that I can put in my "back-up storage"? I've bumped Walmart orders up to free shipping with a few tubes of toothpaste and orders with some dish soap.  If it's something you'll use, at a good price, getting free shipping makes it worthwhile.
  • Be cautious! Shipping from the States is notoriously expensive.  So is exchange right now.  And some stores don't cover duties and customs fees.  Factor these things into your comparison.  If the website doesn't have a "shipping" button near the top or bottom, try "FAQs" and if they have neither, they may not ship here.
  • And don't forget to go through ebates if the store offers it, assuming you're a member (if you're not, why not? here's why you should join!)
  • If I can't (or decide not to) get it online, then at least I know where to go to get the best price. . . and if it's far away, maybe a closer store will price match for me

3.  Don't be afraid. . . to buy online
Brick and mortar stores are a comfortable place for many of us to shop.  But when there aren't many, the lack of competition can hurt our efforts to shop smart.  To this I say, get online! Try it out!  Nervous about your personal information?  Here are some easy ways to protect yourself:
  • make sure you're shopping from a reputable site
  • consider using PayPal if possible
  • if you really want to protect your credit card, pick up a prepaid one just for this purpose
  • don't store your credit card info on any site you don't trust
  • don't shop on any public computers (libraries, work computers, etc.)
  • and always log out of your account when you're finished

4.  Math is your friend.  (In related news, my mom taught Math for many years so "hi Mom!")
And comparison shopping math isn't hard! I showed you (refreshed your memory really) how to do it last week.  But we're not all mental mathematicians.  So here are a few tips to make it easier:
  • your cell phone probably has a calculator. . . use it
  • if it doesn't (or you don't have one), carry a regular calculator
  • have a hard time remembering the results of those calculations? carry a notebook or use a note-taking feature on your phone 
  • shopping from home is great - your computer has a calculator (and Google will do the math for you if you type into the address bar on Chrome) and I love the "post-its" function for easy paper-free note-taking
  • remember to compare apples to apples - if the products aren't in the same quantities, you need to calculate unit price
That's it, that's all! Until next week, happy shopping!

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