One of the biggest culture shocks for me when moving to the US was the amount of shopping available. It really is a consumer society here.
When driving down the road, the same stores – Walmart, Target, Denny’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, McDonalds – appear with curious frequency. It’s like the town designers have lost all inspiration and simply have a cookie cutter group of stores that they plonk down every 10 miles.
I actually find the whole consumerism thing quite depressing. I’ve spoken to many people here who spend every cent that they earn on “stuff” that they decide a month later that they really don’t want. Their basements are a random collection of stuff that they then sell at garage sales every Spring to make room for the new stuff they buy.
So my first tip is to only buy what you either truly need or something that brings you lasting joy, and only spend within your means. Happiness is not a product of how much stuff you have.
Happiness is not a product of how much stuff you have.
Having said that, I am also a frugal person, and if there’s a chance of saving money on something I have to buy anyway, I’m in. I thought I’d use this post to show some of the ways that I’ve found to best save money when shopping (particularly online) in the US.
Americans are coupon crazy. There is a national obsession (especially among women) to see how cheaply you can purchase things at the grocery store. There’s even a cable TV show called “Extreme Couponing”. Truly.
For the newbies to the couponing scene, there are two basic types of coupons: Store coupons can only be used in that store. Manufacturer coupons can be used in any store that sells the product. Read the fine print on the coupon. Most of the time, you can combine a store + manufacturer coupon to save even more.
Many stores are starting to do their coupons electronically (hallelujah!). You simply sign up for their discount card or keyring, log into their website or app, and add the coupons that interest you.
Unfortunately the large majority of food related coupons are for the highly processed junk that you really don’t want to buy anyway. Occasionally some of the health food will have a coupon, and even more rarely, you’ll get a rebate on fresh food.
When we first arrived in the US, I bought the Sunday newspaper religiously and clipped all kinds of coupons. But our bodies just couldn’t tolerate the food I was buying, so I went back to my usual buying of fresh stuff. I only buy the Sunday paper occasionally these days, and when I do, I buy it on a Monday or Tuesday for 50c at our local gas station (instead of paying $2.50 on Sunday).
Given that couponing is akin to a national sport here, there are tons of resources available for learning more, so I won’t bother repeating what others have better said. These websites are a good start:
Ibotta is one of the few savings techniques that you can use AFTER you’ve made your purchases and is great for groceries. Basically, you buy what you normally would, then you open up your Ibotta app and see if you’ve bought anything that has a discount available. You can claim the rebate, even if you’ve already used a store and/or manufacturer coupon for the same item or purchased that item on sale. Ibotta will often have rebates on generic things like vegetables and milk, so it’s worth checking out. The rebates are generally very small (10c – 50c off things), but over time it all adds up.
When making online purchases, never pay full price. N. E. V. E. R. Simply do a Google search for whatever it is that you want to buy and check first. It only takes a few minutes and may save you a ton of money.
EBates is a website that gives you cash back on your online purchases. This is my favourite way to online shop because it doesn’t involve too much work and you can earn actual cash on stuff you were going to buy anyway. Even at online retailers like EBay and Groupon. You can earn cash back at thousands of different stores, sometimes earning as much as 40% back. Watch for the double cash back days to save even more (they usually occur on public holidays like Labor Day).
Make sure that the EBates discount is active before making your purchase – they won’t honour purchases retrospectively.
A consignment store is a store that sells used goods (usually clothing). Sometimes people will sell things directly to the store, who will in turn sell it to the general public. More commonly, people will place things in the store “on consignment”, where the store sells the product and gives a small percentage back to the original owner after the sale is made. I’ve seen a few consignments stores in Australia, but they were all in places like the eastern beaches in Sydney for super expensive designer wear. Consignment stores in the US are much more common, and the prices are far more reasonable. I’m not a huge fan of driving around to multiple stores on the off chance that they might have something good, so I tend to shop online at Thred-Up, one of the larger online consignment stores.
Just last week I managed to purchase a pure wool knee length coat, 2 cashmere knitted jumpers, designer jeans and a funky jacket thing, all for around $80. My autumn/winter clothing for this year is sorted and I didn’t need to set foot in a store. Yes, it’s used clothing, but it looks brand new and only cost a fraction of the retail price.
Add to cart then cancel
This might seem like a really strange tip, but it works more often than not. For an item that you don’t need straight away, go to the online store you would like to purchase from, add the item to your shopping cart, start the check-out process, then close the window. One of three things will happen:
- You’ll get an immediate pop up saying that you haven’t completed the transaction. Do you really want to leave? Really? Please stay. Here’s 10% off to entice you back.
- You’ll get an e-mail within a day or two with a similar message, offering you some kind of incentive to log back in and shop with them.
- Or… nothing. In which case, you’re no worse off – you can go ahead and buy the item anyway.
I’ve actually had this happen fairly recently. I was in the process of purchasing an item but something came up and the site timed out. When I logged back in, I had a message offering me 10% off. At the same time, I realised that there was a 10% EBates discount available that I had forgotten to activate. So I saved 20% on something I had every intention of paying full price for. Bonus.
This one is really weird and is the only tip I’m giving for shopping in person. Yes, at a real store with walls and people to interact with. The horror.
With the ShopKick app, smartphone users can earn “kicks” for simply walking into a store. And more “kicks” from scanning barcodes of various items, or purchasing certain items. These kicks can be cashed in for vouchers such as Amazon, iTunes or even restaurants. It uses the GPS function in your phone to track where you are. We’re received several iTunes vouchers this way, for no more effort than activating the app before a shopping trip. Be sure to turn the app off when you’ve finished shopping, otherwise it will make a “cha-ching” noise at you as you drive along the road, telling you about the sales and rebates that are available at the stores you’re driving past. Super annoying.
So there you have it – my tips for saving money when shopping in the USA. Do you have any tips to add? Please let me know in the comments section below!
(Piggy bank image by suphakit73 at freedigitalphotos.net. Used with Permission)