Friday, October 09, 2015

Frugal Fridays: How to Comparison Shop Like a Pro

This is the second post in my Frugal Fridays series.  The first one's here if you missed it :)

We all know (or should know) that comparison shopping is the key to smarter spending.  How many times have you said "why would I spend that much on bananas when I can spend this much?" Or "wow! organic bananas are so much more expensive! I'll stick to my regular ones"?  Or maybe you don't care so much about the price of your bananas.  Or you don't like bananas.  Whatever.  It's an example.  Use tomatoes or toilet paper or shoes or whatever makes you happy.  Same deal.  But sometimes we just don't do it.  Here's how to (relatively painlessly) comparison shop:

1.  Compare Apples to Apples!

I'm not just talking about apples here. . . but I'll use it as my example because it's cute right?

In my imaginary store, I sell the following (totally imaginary pricing by the way):

  • Apple A costs $6.99 for a 5lb bag
  • Apple B costs $1.99 per lb
  • Apple C is a different type of apple and costs $1.29 per lb
Well, first thing's first:  which type of apple do you want? If it's the second variety of apple, just buy Apple C since that's the way it is sold.  If you prefer the first variety or have no preference, we have some math to do.  We need to make sure that we are comparing the same product, in the same quantities.

We need to calculate the unit price so we can see which is cheapest per unit (in this case, per lb, but it could also be per ml or g or even per apple).

Apple B and Apple C are already priced by the lb so what about Apple A?

5lbs cost $6.99 so 1lb would cost:     $6.99 = $1.40
                                                               5
So, between A and B, it is cheaper to buy the 5lb bag instead of picking your own apples out of the bin.  But if you're not partial about the type of apple you're buying, go with Apple C.  Figuring out the unit price allows us to determine which is cheaper overall.  We can't compare a "per bag" and "per lb" price because they aren't measuring the same thing.

2.  Think About Your Needs

But maybe you don't need 5lbs of apples! If you won't eat them all before they turn, maybe it's not worth it to buy a 5lb bag.  A skid of frozen chicken fingers might be a great buy, but unless you have a commercial-sized freezer, odds are you won't be able to keep them long enough to enjoy them.  A skid of toilet paper, on the other hand. . .

Buying in bulk can be a great deal.  Just make sure:
  • that it is actually cheaper
  • that you will use it all up (and before it goes bad if it's a perishable item)
  • that you have space in which to store it
If any of those things aren't true, don't buy it! No matter how good the deal is!

3.  Quality Over Quantity

Take another look at that bag of apples.  Are they all nice ones? No bruises, good sizes? Sometimes it's worth it to spend a little bit more to get exactly what you want - to pick your own perfect apples out of the bin, if you will.  I'm not usually a big "brand" person but there are some things that I think are worth the splurge (skincare and toilet paper come to mind).  But what I find "worth it" and what you do are probably different things.  You just need to figure out what you're willing to compromise on and what you're not.  Then try to get the best price for what you want.

4.  Check Out Reviews of Like Items

So I'm not talking apples here but for larger purchases, it can be helpful to get some feedback from real people on things they've purchased.  Maybe it's a car or a stroller or electronics.  Whatever the case, if it's a bigger purchase and you're debating between models or brands, I highly recommend finding some reviews through Google.  Maybe the cheapest is fantastic.  But maybe you get what you pay for.  It sucks to drop big bucks on a purchase that won't last or won't work the way you want it to.  Buy the apples you like, right?

5.  Check Online

For large purchases or small purchases alike, I often buy online.  As long as shipping (and exchange if it's a US site) doesn't drastically increase the costs of the product, you can find some great deals online.  I do most of my shopping for gifts (Etsy is great for one-of-a-kind items that your friends and family will rave about) and love to stock up on staples (often to hit the free shipping purchase limit - never pay for shipping if you can avoid it!) on the internet.  It might be worth it to go to a brick and mortar store. . . or you might score a great deal without leaving your couch (and gassing up your car).  Plus, you can earn Ebates (if you haven't signed up yet, here's why you should!).

Shopping online opens the market up drastically - no monopolies to drive pricing up like being the only store in a small community to sell something.  And that's awesome for your wallet :)

Until next week, happy shopping!

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