Money talks, but all it ever says is goodbye. So goes the American proverb, which sums up many people’s relationship with their finances. Most of us are great at spending cash, not so great at making sure we spend it right.
This kind of mindless shopping is endemic in our society – but it costs us dearly. Many of us lose out on savings worth hundreds or even thousands of pounds every year – all because we spend first, think later.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can all get far better value for money simply by following some basic rules. From shopping around to looking out for vouchers, these pearls of wisdom will transform your approach to spending and make sure you get more bang for your buck.
So if you want to become a savvier shopper today, read on…
- Take a leaf out of Karl Lagerfeld’s book. The top designer at Chanel has said: “Buy what you don’t have yet, or what you really want, which can be mixed with what you already own. Buy only because something excites you, not just for the simple act of shopping.” When even the head of a luxurious style brand urges shoppers to be cautious, you know it makes sense to pause before you buy. Do you really need this item? How many times can you use it? Do you have anything similar in your house already? Ask all three questions before you hand over your hard-earned cash.
- Keep a budget. Everyone needs to know how much money is at their disposal so they can make informed, rational decisions about what to buy. This is only possible if you have a clear idea about exactly how much is coming into your bank account and what is going out. A budget doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as a two column list on a piece of paper, one column listing all your income (including any benefits or tax rebates) and the other detailing all your outgoings (including bills, debt repayments and all your spending). If your outgoings exceed your income, you need to cut back your shopping to get your finances on an even keel. Always be aware of how much you have available to spend after all your necessary outgoings before you indulge in any retail therapy.
- Be the planner when it comes to social occasions. It’s very easy to let our friends choose how we spend our social budget but if they keep picking expensive bars, restaurants and events, that may not be fair on lower earners. If you suggest cheaper places to go and free things to do, you’re more likely to keep your spending under control. It’s better than staying at home or getting into debt, let’s face it.
- Learn how to discern between essential and non-essential spending. Sure, we can spot the difference between our utility bills and a luxury spa weekend at a country hotel. But sometimes the difference is not so obvious. When looking at our transport costs, do we really consider that taxi on a night out as ‘essential’? And what about that high-end moisturiser or those takeaway meals on nights when we could easily cook? Some luxuries may seem very important to us and hard to give up, but really justify each expense and always consider whether a cheaper alternative might be better.
- Use comparison sites or apps. There really is no excuse to pick the first product we see and go on our merry way, except maybe for the smallest of items. The bigger the expenditure, the more important it is to check whether there is an app or website that could help us find a better deal. It is possible to compare prices on hundreds of products these days, from beef steaks to insurance. So don’t hesitate to shop around.
- Beware of flash sales. They may seem like an alluring, unique opportunity to nab a bargain, but often retailers run multiple sales throughout the calendar year, so it’s not necessary to jump at every opportunity, particularly if you’re in the market for a big item (far better to suss out what you really need then grab an item at discount that’s not really suitable).
- Plan ahead and use a shopping list. Never hit the shops, either in real life or online, without knowing what you need and why. Not only will this make the whole shopping experience more efficient and productive, you have a far greater chance of resisting impulse purchases that you are liable to regret later on.
- Give to charity when you shop. There are quite a few online shopping sites like eBay and Give as You Live that allow you to do a bit of good every time you click or tap ‘buy’. Okay, this may not be about saving money, but it’s such an easy way to make a difference – why wouldn’t you?
- Work out the unit price. One version of an item may appear cheaper than the rest due to a superficial deal (2 for 1, say) but looking at the small print on the side of the product will give you, in essence, the true value of the product. Try to resist the deals and go on that all-important unit price instead.
- Vouchers are your friend if you want to save money. Sure, it would be easy to buy things and experiences for the sake of it, just because they come with a discount, but they are enormously helpful if you are hunting for a specific item or are heading out for the evening and would like some money off a meal or cinema trip. On these occasions, searching for a voucher may lead you to a real bargain. Always check the expiration date and terms and conditions.