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10 easy ways to save money when shopping

Posted 13 August 2012

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Saving money on your shopping could free up some much-needed cash for other things.

Other than your bills and other essential payments, it's likely that shopping - whether for food, clothes or luxury items - is one of your biggest expenses. Here are a few things that you should bear in mind while you're shopping that could help you to save money.

Work out how much you can spend

It might be helpful to think about what you can realistically afford to spend on shopping (for non-essential or 'luxury' items like clothes or gadgets) in the long term - for example in a whole year. Work out how much of your money each year goes on your mortgage, bills, food, childcare, petrol and all of your other essential costs. You can then decide what percentage of your 'disposable income' (i.e. whatever is left over) you'd be willing to spend when shopping.

Looking at it as a big lump sum that has to last for a year can really make you less willing to spend on things you may not actually need. You could even take the sum you're willing to spend in the shops and put it in a separate bank account. Get a card for this account, and take it out with you when you shop.

Treat store cards carefully

Did you know that store cards could cost you more than you expected if you don't pay them off in full each month? Some do offer valuable discounts, but you have to be sure you can repay the full amount - plus interest, if they're not paid off quickly enough. If you know you tend to overspend when you're carrying a card, try taking cash with you instead (and only as much as you need for your shopping trip). If you are struggling with unsecured debts - whether from a store card or other sources - click here to see ways you could deal with them.

Make a list

This applies to all kinds of shopping. What do you actually need to buy? Once you're in the supermarket or the high street, make sure you stick to the list - don't be tempted!

Plan how you'll use what you buy

If you're going out food shopping, plan the meals you'll cook that week. If you're going out shopping for clothes, think about what would complement the rest of your wardrobe. By making a plan you're less likely to buy something you'll never end up using.

Compare prices online

There's the old mantra of 'if you're not sure you want to buy it, leave the shop'. That way, you'll know whether you really want it - if you're still thinking about it two hours later. Well, even if you're sure you want it straight away, it's still worth looking online to see if it's cheaper there. This is especially relevant for things like electronics. Use a tool like Google Shopping to compare prices across a variety of retailers. If you find a cheap price, show it in a store that promises to 'price match' and ask if you can get it for less.

Buy the basics

Instead of buying ready-meals, buy ingredients that could be made into a variety of different things. Always make sure you're stocked up on the staples and you might not be tempted to spend as much on 'luxury' food items. It's the same with clothes shopping - buying a number of plain items that can be mixed in endless combinations might be better than buying an expensive dress.

Shop out of season

Bikinis in November, duffel coats in June - you get the idea.

Sell what you don't need

The average person has loads of things clogging up their house that they don't need, or they've never used. Consider selling this stuff on eBay - or give it to a charity shop. While you're rifling through all of your stuff, you'll realise how much you actually have. And, while we're on the subject of charity shops, they can have some real bargains (especially ones in more affluent areas).

Always look out for vouchers

Before you go shopping - online or on the high street - think about the shops you'll probably visit, and see if they have any active discounts, sales or voucher codes. Some websites also show you similar deals elsewhere, so you could tailor your shopping trip to include these discounts if your favourite shop isn't having any sales.

Don't buy things you don't need

Whether it's because it's cheap, you're bored, you think you have nothing to wear, your neighbour has just upgraded their TV… just don't buy it if you don't really need it. Make yourself go through a 'waiting period', whether that's two hours or two weeks, and ask yourself whether you really need it once time has gone by.

by Sarah Symons

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To find out more about managing your money and getting free debt advice, visit Money Advice Service, an independent service set up to help people manage their money.