It can be particularly challenging to keep outgoings down at the moment, with the cost of living crisis impacting the price of just about everything.
However, it’s usually possible to save money while shopping, by changing the way you buy and cutting out unnecessary purchases, or by taking advantage of the right resources to find discounts.
Whether you’re doing your weekly grocery shop or making a big purchase, here are some of our top tips to keep your shopping bills down.
1. Adopt the one hour rule
It can be easy to fall victim to impulse buying, but doing so bites particularly hard when you regret the purchase later on.
If this is a familiar feeling for you, try using the one hour rule. Whenever something catches your attention while shopping, give yourself 60 minutes to decide whether you really need the item, such as that new pair of shoes. You might even forget about it or move on to a different task in that time period, in which case you’ll probably have saved yourself from an impulse buy. On the other hand, if you’re still keen, you’ll at least have given the decision some consideration, making it more likely that the item is a worthwhile purchase.
Of course, this is much easier to do while shopping online. If you tend to do all your shopping on the high street, you could extend the rule to one day or one week and if you still want to make the purchase, return to the shop or buy the item via the store’s website.
Our list of ways to cut clothing costs contains more tips that might come in handy if you want to reduce the amount you spend on clothes.
2. Use loyalty cards
Shop loyalty schemes are a great way to make your weekly spending stretch a bit further. Most major retailers have some kind of loyalty scheme available, enabling you to earn points with each purchase and save them up for rewards or discounts. You can read about the best ones in our article Shop loyalty schemes: What are your points worth?.
You shouldn’t choose where you shop based on a loyalty scheme, but if you regularly shop at a particular retailer, taking advantage of these can be a nice bonus.
3. Earn cashback while you shop
Instead of buying a product directly through an online retailer, you can often earn a small percentage of your money back if you shop through a cashback site. Some of these are free to sign up for, while others charge a subscription fee.
For example, members of Topcashback can receive over £300 per year in cashback, and you can also get cashback for purchases at some high street shops if you register your card with the app. It’s free to join or download, or you can get the Plus membership for £5 per month (which is automatically deducted from your cashback savings, so you won’t lose money if you never use the service).
Read more about how these services work in our article Cashback websites: how to earn money when you shop online.
4. Write a wish list and wait for a sale
Another handy tip for habitual online shoppers and impulse buyers is to start a wish list, and add items to it when they tempt you instead of buying them outright. Then, the next time a particular retailer is having a sale on that item, you can buy what you want at the discounted price. You can download Alertr to keep track of specific products for you, and it will notify you by email if the price drops. Or, you might find that you’ve cooled on the item by that point and don’t want it any more – either way, it’s a win.
5. Establish a budget
Setting a specific amount that you allow yourself to spend on a shopping trip is an easy way to avoid overspending and a great habit to get into. If you really want to stick to a budget and avoid going over this, consider withdrawing a fixed amount of cash from a machine and leaving your cards at home.
If you’re not sure how much to set aside for your shopping budget, then it helps to note down your monthly income and outgoings and work from there. Our article How to make a budget and stick to it goes into more detail and provides some additional resources to get you started with putting a budget together.
6. Keep your credit card limit low
It’s no secret that it’s easy for credit card spending to get out of control. If you’re a habitual credit card user and worry that you spend too much shopping, you can call your provider using the number on your card and ask them to lower your credit card limit.
If you are having problems with debt, our article How to take control of your debts contains guidance that may be useful to you.
7. Take advantage of money-saving apps
It’s not just loyalty schemes and cashback services that provide useful apps to save money.
There are also plenty of apps that specialise in finding the best voucher codes for you to use, so you can get discounts on your shopping. VoucherCodes enables you to save at your favourite shops and will find the best deals for you, while Honey automatically finds and applies the best deals it can find when you reach checkout on an online shopping order.
Olio and Too Good To Go are great for finding food that would otherwise go to waste. Olio connects you with nearby users who are offering food they don’t plan to eat, while Too Good To Go lets you buy bags of unsold food from businesses at heavily discounted rates.
For more apps that could help you net big savings, check out our article on the top money saving apps.
8. Bring your own shopping bags
If, say, you buy groceries twice a week and two plastic bags at the supermarket each time – that’s 40p a week just on bags. That might not sound like much on its own, but paying this amount over the course of five years would see you spend more than £100 on bags alone.
In other words, reusing carrier bags is an easy way to save, so try keeping a few in the car, by your front door, or in your handbag if you use one, so you don’t forget to take them with you. Of course, this isn’t just better for your wallet, as you’ll be doing some good for the environment in the process.
9. Shop around
When it comes to pricier purchases such as electronics or furniture, shopping around is a must. Visiting physical stores is often best for seeing which products suit your needs, but you’ll likely be saving money if you take note of the model and buy it online at a later stage.
This also allows you to compare the price from multiple retailers and check reviews before hitting the purchase button.
10. Don’t fall for ‘fake’ sales
One common trick used by retailers – particularly fashion brands – is the use of ‘fake’ sales and discounts for their products. This basically means listing a particular item for its usual selling price, but advertising it as a discounted rate.
Companies do this knowing that customers will be more tempted by a purchase if they feel like they’re making a saving, even if they’re actually not. For example, the retailer may reference a ‘regular’ price that the item is supposedly normally sold at, even if the item was never sold for that much to begin with. In these situations, it’s unfortunately not the actual price we’re paying that matters to us – it’s the satisfaction we get from feeling like we’re getting a deal on something.
There’s no surefire way to avoid getting caught out by these sales, but it helps to compare similar items from the same store and from other brands to see if the ‘sale’ price is actually a bargain. Try and focus on the price itself and whether it really is good value, rather than the supposed discount you’re getting. Of course, even if a sale is legitimate, it’s still worth considering whether it’s something you would want to buy under normal circumstances before you go ahead.
11. Spot marketing tricks and go for cheaper brands
The way products, particularly groceries, are branded makes a huge difference to our purchasing decisions. Most of us are susceptible to paying more for something if it appears to be a higher quality option, but snazzy packaging often hides a product that is more or less the same as cheaper alternatives.
Supermarket’s premium items (which use phrases such as “finest”, “special”) and branded products like Kellogg’s cereal or Dolmio sauce are usually more expensive than own brands and value brands (which use phrases like “basic” or “savers”), but that doesn’t mean they’re always better. If you lean towards the higher-end options in your regular shop, try swapping out one product for a cheaper version on each shopping trip and seeing if you can tell the difference at home.
If you do this once every shop and start the process of migrating to cheaper brands and ranges, you could find yourself slashing hundreds of pounds off your grocery bills each year.
If you’re on the lookout for more ways to save money, we have a few more articles that might be of interest. Our list of money saving tips contains various ways to keep your bills down, while our articles Takeaways, eating out and delivery: what are the best deals this month? and The best discounts for people in their 50s, 60s and beyond are kept regularly updated with the best deals out there.