15 Simple, Proven Strategies to Save on Everything You’ll Ever Buy

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All told, the average American household spent $51,442 in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While the bulk of that money went for housing, we still spent more than $1,700 on apparel and services, $2,600 on entertainment, and another $2,600 on food away from home. Then there is that mystery category, “all other expenditures,” that just tops $3,500.

Wouldn’t it be nice to spend a little less?

Fortunately, there are a number of tried and true ways to save money on virtually everything you buy. Watch Money Talks News money expert Stacy Johnson outline the key points in the video below and then keep reading to discover savings strategies that work regardless of whether you are buying tires or shopping for makeup.

1. Never buy new what you can buy used

To start, if you want to save money on everything you buy, you should never buy new. Well, nearly never buy new. You might possibly want to buy new underwear from time to time.

But for much of everything else, let someone else take the depreciation hit. Car site Edmunds.com estimates the average new car loses 11 percent of its value the moment it’s driven off the lot. After five years, new vehicles typically lose more than 60 percent of their value.

Cars might be the best-known example, but virtually everything depreciates over time. Jewelry, furniture, appliances, and even video games and movies can depreciate faster than you can say “impulse buy.” Check out Craigslist, eBay and Half.com for practically new items being sold for a song.

2. Save big with bulk purchases

Let’s say you use a lot of batteries. Why buy four batteries when you could buy 40? Buying in bulk can be an excellent way to lower your per-unit cost. Check out Amazon prices on Duracell AA batteries as an example. As of this writing, you can buy a four-pack of batteries for $5.59 or get 40 for $19.25.

However, not everything is a steal. If you’re thinking about going the warehouse route, read this article on what to buy at warehouse stores before you start shopping.

3. Tame impulse buys with a list

It’s hard to put a number on how much impulse buying costs us each year. According to USA Weekend, some of the only hard statistics come from 1998, and at that time, North Americans were spending about $4 billion annually on unplanned purchases.

Tame the tendency to impulse buy by limiting yourself to only what’s on your shopping list. Don’t think that list is only for groceries either. Create an ongoing list of planned purchases. When you notice your shoes are wearing thin, add shoes to the list. When you decide you need a bigger slow cooker, add that to the list.

Then when you are tempted to buy something on the spur of the moment, refer to your list. If it’s not there, remind yourself that you don’t need it and that money spent on impulse takes away cash that could be used to buy something you really want.

4. Remember that generics equal more green in your wallet

If you’re buying a brand name, you’re spending a lot of extra cash and may not be getting much in return.

Consumer Reports compared name-brand and store-brand grocery products and found that consumers can save anywhere from 30 to 52 percent by buying store brands. In addition, the study revealed that in blind tests, most items tied in terms of their taste and, in some instances, the store brand was actually preferred over the name brand.

Then there are generic drugs. The Food and Drug Administration says consumers can save 80 to 85 percent by buying generic prescriptions. No need to worry about their safety either since generic drugs must meet the same quality standards as brand names and must also include the same active ingredients in the same strength as their more expensive counterparts.

5. Negotiate for the lowest price

You’re missing out on great savings if the only time you negotiate is when you’re buying a new car or are at a yard sale. Read Stacy Johnson’s “Confessions of a Serial Haggler” for a rundown on the fine art of bargaining.

6. Stop being the early adopter

Always having the latest and greatest gadget might make you the cool kid in your circle of friends, but it’s also going to empty your wallet in a hurry. You’re paying top dollar for something you could probably get for significantly less a short year later.

Why do you need to upgrade anyway? Why buy a 50-inch TV when your 37-inch one works perfectly fine? The Internet exploded last fall when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was photographed using a (gasp!) flip phone. Some people laughed, saying he was behind the times, but he’s a billionaire so, really, who’s getting the last laugh?

7. Make a habit of sharing purchases

Is there really a need for everyone on your block to have their own weed whacker? If you are going to rent a carpet cleaner for an afternoon, could a friend or neighbor use it too?

Make a point to look for ways you can share purchases with others. Maybe that means something as formal as creating a neighborhood co-op where families come together to make shared purchases, or it could be as a simple as calling up your friend and asking if she wants to go in on a purchase or rental of a particular item.

8. Never buy what you can make or do yourself

You can save a boatload of money if you do things yourself rather than paying someone else. From making your own laundry detergent to simple home repairs, many of the things you buy could be replaced by your own ingenuity or a little elbow grease. That said, we don’t recommend do-it-yourself dentistry.

9. Compare, compare, compare

Knowledge is power, and your money will have more buying power if you take the time to do a little research. Never make a purchase without first checking prices at other retailers and online. Websites such as PriceGrabber, Shopzilla and Nextag make it easy to find the lowest price.

10. Don’t let can’t-miss deals fool you

Of course, slick salesmen and retailers won’t want you to shop around. They may pressure you for an immediate sale, arguing that prices have never been so low or their manager is making a special deal for you that will only be available for the next 15 minutes.

They are emotionally toying with you, my friends. Like a cat plays with a mouse, they are trying to back you into a corner where you feel you can’t possibly say no. But competition is fierce, and the reality is there will always be another sale.

Don’t buy unless you’ve done enough research to know the deal is good. Plus, going back to strategy No. 5, walking away can be your most powerful negotiating tool.

11. Try doing without

You may be inclined to run out and buy something as soon as the old version has worn out or breaks. However, wait a couple of days or, even better, a couple of weeks before making a purchase. You may find you can do without the item, or you may discover you have another item that can work as a perfectly acceptable substitute.

12. Look for a coupon

We all know about coupons for grocery store items, but that’s not all these little money-savers can be used for. Coupons are available for everything from auto repairs to online purchases.

If you dine out regularly, see if a coupon book or key card would be a good investment. These are often sold as fundraisers through schools and clubs, but you can also buy Entertainment Books online. Be sure to check which coupons are included to ensure they match your tastes. Often, these programs provide more discounts to local, independent establishments than to chains.

You can also get coupons by signing up for the mailing lists of your favorite stores or agreeing to receive mobile alerts.

Finally, don’t forget to search for coupons and promos when shopping online. For more information, read our “Definitive Guide to Promo Codes, Coupons and Deals.”

13. Drop the bottom line with online rewards

In addition to coupons, you can save money by taking advantage of online rebate or rewards programs. You may not get savings upfront, but you can receive a nice check or other rewards later. To get the scoop, you’ll want to check out this article on how to get paid to shop.

14. Use a rewards credit card

Like rebate websites, rewards credit cards don’t drop your initial cost, but they do provide overall savings on your purchase in the form of cash back or rewards points that can be redeemed for merchandise, gift cards or travel.

The one caveat of rewards credit cards is their interest. If you don’t pay off your balance in full each month, the amount of interest you pay could negate any rewards you receive.

If you don’t already have a card, you can find a comprehensive list of rewards credit cards here.

15. Only pay cash

Finally, if you really want to save money on everything you’ll ever buy, only pay with cash. Research shows that using cash discourages spending, while credit cards and gift certificates may encourage it. In addition, spending cash keeps you accountable by ensuring you only use the money you have on hand rather than basing your purchases on some vague notion of what might be available in your bank account or on your credit card.

There you have our 15 simple strategies to save money on everything you buy. Did we miss any? Tell us your favorite money-saving method in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

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  • tom mayer

    Think number one and number sever are truly horrible advice.
    Used does NOT always save $. Example: we bought an HP factory reman laptop. Thought we were saving 50% and that HP could be counted on to provide a functioning machine. Wrong. Adding up the various costs, not including aggravation, within 18 months of purchase we’d have been 25% to to the good with a new machine. At 36 months we threw the remanufactured machine away rather than throw more money at it.
    I would never again have a partner in any piece of machinery. Owned an airplane once with my best friend. After two years we were barely speaking to each other and dissolved the partnership. Main issues devolved around where, when and how much to spend on maintenance. Our ideas of what constituted legal and safe were very different.

  • pennyhammack

    I shop frequently on Amazon but you have to be really careful. For example on the AA batteries: several are listed with a unit cost, while others are listed with cost per ounce which is meaningless. Also they list many vendors that are not included in the Amazon Prime designation. Those vendors will charge shipping which, when included in the cost raises the cost per unit to more than you pay using a Amazon Prime vendor. Keep a hand calculator handy.

  • Ticobird

    I’d argue that the ability to buy a new car is much more comforting than buying a used automobile that you probably know so little about. After all, it is more than likely that the previous owner decided to switch for a negative reason other than providing the used car shopper a good deal.

    • Elizabeth Bennett

      I agree. The day I went out & bought a newer car, & got rid of my older Jeep, that I had sunk untold thousands and thousands in repairs in … was the smartest day of my life! I’ve only had to pay for oil changes in my newer car, whereas my older Jeep was literally in and out of the repair shop every other 3 or 4 month, at a pop of $500 to $800 / per visit. I just couldn’t afford the older car any longer. I suppose if you’re a mechanic and have access to cheap parts, then buying an old car makes sense. But for a single lady who doesn’t know the 1st thing about cars, I have to have a functioning car … that I can count on.

  • Smath56

    Buy used and pay cash!

  • jerrymandel

    1.Bargain on everything possible. 2. Your battery prices are silly high. Anyway, buy a battery charger and rechargeable batteries for big savings.