Your 20s are a time of making mistakes, and getting away with being irresponsible from time to time. By the time you hit 30, however, you should learn from those past mistakes, and have your life together, and that includes managing your finances. Part of that overarching concept includes being able to shop savvy so you can save more of your heard-earned cash. Not an easy skill to master, but these tips will give your budget a boost.
1. Comparing prices
Perhaps the most basic shopping skill you need to master is how to compare prices to score the best deals. This takes practice, of course — you need to know what you’re looking for and where to look for it — but once you’ve got that down, you can save thousands of dollars a year.
Everything from computers to cars, and groceries to getaways are ripe for comparison, and all of it is made much easier by the internet. Spend some time digging to compare the prices across multiple sites. You may be surprised at the disparity in prices across retailers, but that’s how our economy works. In this proverbial money-spending competition, only the smartest buyers survive. Invoke your inner Darwinism to always come out on top.
2. Negotiating major purchases
Despite the popularity of online shopping, there are still some things you have to buy in person, and that involves negotiating on price. From haggling with the local flea market vendor to shaking down the car salesman, negotiating skills are essential to getting the fairest and sometimes lowest price available. This can be an intimidating process — who will buckle first in this financial faceoff? — but a lack of confidence where your money is concerned will only put a deeper dent in your wallet than is necessary. A big mistake in this area is strictly thinking in dollars and cents. There are other ways to enhance your purchase’s value without straight cash back.
Mike Catania, chief technology officer of the money-saving site PromotionCode, offers a pro-tip on the back-and-forth of the best deals.
“Understand that salespeople get paid on commission, typically X percent over a certain amount,” he explains. “Rather than attacking the commissionable price, make offers around it. Ask for a $200 gift card on top of the appliance or the washer/dryer stands to be included and delivered the same day for free. Your job isn’t to punish the salesperson, but to extract the most value that you can from the transaction, and that means thinking outside the box and genuinely understanding the position of the salesperson.” (See also: 8 Negotiating Skills Everyone Should Master)
3. Evaluating competing products
It’s not just comparing MSRP pricing that will help you determine the best deal or value. Often you have to consider other factors, like consumer reviews, available promos or discounts, add-ons and freebies, warranties, and overall brand quality. I also like to rely on recommendations from family and friends and try things in person so I can get a good look and feel for the product. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought an item looked great online just to get it in my home and hate it. Photos alone can be deceiving, which is why it’s essential to do more diligent research on what you’re buying, especially if the cost is considerable. (See also: How to Spot a Fake Review)
4. Separating quality from quantity when clothes shopping
I’ve always been a clothing junkie, but as I’ve gotten older, I focus more on the quality of my clothing (because the clothing I like to wear isn’t cheap), rather than quantity of having more things to wear. The issue sort of works itself out, though, since quality clothing lasts longer than the cheap stuff I’d pick up. My closet is full of variety as a result of the durable, stylish, classic clothing that I’ve amassed over the years.
Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing with DealNews, agrees.
“Shopping maturity often means learning the value of spending more on fewer items, so you can shop less in the long run,” she says. “When it comes to clothing and accessories, it can be tempting to keep adding more to your closet, especially when you’re looking at cheap, fast fashion. This desire is sometimes present because we want more variety, but often it’s because what we’re buying isn’t satisfying. But if you find a high-quality item that fits like a glove and flatters your body so much that it looks like you’ve lost weight, you’re unlikely to feel the same drive to buy more. You’ll feel satisfied with what you’ve got because you feel good every time you wear it. Often these items cost more, which can be a difficult pill to swallow, but when you take the plunge and see how it affects your other purchases, you may realize that you spend less in the long run.” (See also: 9 Qualities to Look for in Well-Made Clothing)
5. Determining want versus need
I like shopping alone because nobody gets in my head about what I’m buying or judges my purchases, but sometimes it’s helpful to employ the buddy system when I’ve got money to burn so I don’t make stupid spending decisions. A good friend will be that little voice on your shoulder helping you decide whether you want or need something, and almost always it’s just a want, and not a need. You’ll curl your lip at the friend in the moment — because who asked you, Rachel? — but you should know the difference by the time you turn 30 unless you want to live in your parents’ basement forever surrounded by all your expensive impulse-buys. (See also: 7 Effortless Ways to Prevent Budget-Busting Impulse Buys)
6. Learning how to just say no
Saying “no” is another shopping skill that sometimes only comes with age.
“It’s so easy to consider an item on sale and think ‘It’s so cheap, why not buy it?'” Sakraida says. “But instead, you have to learn to force yourself to consider, Why should I buy it?, regardless of how reasonable the price tag is. A cheap buy is still worthless if it doesn’t fit a need or improve your life in a tangible, consistent way.
7. Identifying the right times to buy things
Timing can be everything when it comes to saving money when you shop, like keeping an eye on deals around the holidays or waiting until your birthday to scoop up loyalty or email marketing deals that are coming your way. In addition, there are actually certain times of the week that are best to make various purchases, like airline tickets and appliances.
Adds Sakraida, “These days, it doesn’t take long for a store to offer a promotion of some kind, so it’s easy to save at least 20 percent on new merchandise. Wait even longer to about midseason, and you could save closer to 40 percent, and waiting until the end-of-season clearance will nab you up to 75 percent off.”
8. Seeing the value in used goods
I’ve always loved saving money, so thrift shopping, secondhand buys, and used merch is right up my alley. But not everyone is on board. I can’t make you feel OK about it — some people just don’t like the idea of having or wearing something somebody else owned — but if you can get over this aversion, you’ll save a heck-ton of cash.
“In your 20s you’re probably furnishing your first home or apartment, which can be expensive,” says Anna Brockway, co-founder of Chairish, an online marketplace for used home décor. “My number one shopping tip is to buy vintage furniture instead of buying new. In most cases, vintage furniture costs 70 to 80 percent less, and it’s much better made and has more character and style than mass-produced stuff. Vintage is great way to stylishly communicate your personal style and point of view, which is another skill you’ll want to master by 30.” (See also: 8 Things You Should Always Buy Used)
9. Avoiding shopping hungry, emotional, or drunk
I was recently home alone on a Friday night getting to know a bottle of wine when I flipped to the Evine home-shopping channel to get a few holiday gift ideas. A cookie jar, beauty box, and bakeware set later, I was $140 poorer. I’m 36 years old and I know better than to drink and shop. We all make mistakes, but try your best to avoid shopping when you’re hungry, emotional, or tipsy. You’re not in the right head space during these times, and your lack of judgment will cost you, at any age. (See also: How to Prevent a Drunken Online Shopping Spree)
10. Knowing your shopping triggers and staying away from them
What triggers you to open your wallet? Clothing? Cosmetics? Caramel macchiatos?
It’s OK to treat yourself every now and again, but if you know that your will power is severely challenged by one thing or another, avoid that thing. Don’t go to the mall or the makeup counter or your local coffee shop. You can satisfy these urges in other, cheaper ways. Plus, by the time you’re 30, you should be better at practicing self-discipline. (See also: How to Tell You’ve Become a Financial Grown-up)