10 Ways to Be More Frugal When Shopping

Quick Answer

Rising prices make it difficult to keep costs down when shopping for anything. Key ways to save money while shopping include using digital tools to save and track spending, getting old-school with a handwritten budget and paying close attention to where and when you spend.

A man wearing a navy blue suit smiles while looking at ties inside a clothing store.

Let's just say it: Buying anything in 2022 is expensive. Inflation hit a 40-year high this year, and you see it every time you stop by a store. Saving money on groceries, clothes, gifts or any other purchases at a digital or physical store is more difficult than ever, but you can with a little work.

Staying frugal can be a challenge, but looking for ways to save money on daily necessities can help you funnel more money into your emergency savings or retirement accounts or just to give you a little extra money for some treats. Here are some steps you can take to stay frugal when shopping, even in the face of rising costs across the board.

1. Go Minimalist

Financial minimalism looks like this: You focus your cash flow on necessities, savings and investments, rather than on "luxuries" (meaning anything not crucial for your immediate survival). When in a store, you can utilize minimalism to avoid buying an item solely because it's on sale.

If you question whether or not you need something, Marie Kondo the situation: Ask yourself if it's crucial to your health or happiness and seriously consider putting it back on the shelf.

2. Shop Local

Yes, that big box store is a one-stop shop for everything from groceries to home-building materials to travel equipment. But it won't always have the best price—and avoiding the plethora of choices can help you resist spending more than your budget allows.

Instead, time your shopping to align with a local farmer's market and look for fruits and veggies at a lower price—you may be particularly successful when you're buying organic. Fill out the rest of your grocery list by visiting your local butcher or mom-and-pop shop. Then stop by the nearby antique store for unique, vintage gifts and decor at a steal.

3. Use Cash

It's a tried-and-true way to budget before a shopping trip: Allot yourself a certain amount of cash and leave your credit card at home to curb potential overspending. Today, however, there are definitely benefits of using your credit cards for regular purchases.

Luckily, you can build your credit history and earn rewards, all while channeling the old cash-only method. Set a hard limit on your spending before you browse the shelves, and only spend as much money on your card as you know you've got in the bank to cover the bill.

4. Utilize Rewards Credit Cards

When you can resist the urge to overspend, employ your credit cards for the best cash back and rewards. If you have multiple cards, check each card's terms to see if you get extra points in certain categories each month, such as at gas stations or in grocery stores. Use the cards that offer you the best return for whatever shopping you plan to do.

5. Clip Coupons, But Make It Modern

Coupons remain a steadfast savings strategy for any shopping trip. Today's "coupons" automate and digitize the savings experience.

For instance, the website RetailMeNot and the browser extension Honey unearth coupon codes while you shop online; both Ibotta and Rakuten reward spending with cash back.

6. Take a Cue From Japan

Japan's famed Kakeibo method involves approaching your spending mindfully, and it can tangibly benefit your shopping.

The method involves using a dedicated notebook to write down your budget, including spending and savings goals. Make a physical ledger noting your expenses, savings and overarching goals before you stop by the store. All purchases get sorted into one of four categories:

  • Needs: These are things you can't live without, like shelter, food and toiletries.
  • Wants: Items that are nice to have but not essential, like takeout or a gaming system, fall into this category.
  • Culture: This is for spending on cultural experiences, including museum admissions, books or theater tickets.
  • Unexpected: This category is for those unexpected bills, like new tires or repairing a burst pipe.

Before you make a purchase, determine which category the item falls into, and consider putting it back if it's in the wants or culture categories.

7. Compare Prices

Even when shopping online, go the extra step and check in-store prices for those items.

You may find, in some cases, you pay a lot more for the convenience of ordering online. While at the store, use ShopSavvy to compare prices and even track price fluctuations—it could be worth it to temporarily hold off on certain purchases.

When shopping online or in person, do a quick search for your items to confirm you're getting the best possible price. Feel free to present any finds to the store you're in, as many may be willing to price match rather than lose your business to another vendor.

8. Choose Quality

Have you ever seen something so blissfully inexpensive that you buy it, thinking it must be too good to be true? Sometimes, it is too good to be true, and your ultra-economic purchase becomes a premature addition to the trash bin.

When you're shopping, consider the lifetime of items and opt for quality products that will last (within affordable reason, of course). For instance, think of a pair of shoes that wears out quickly. You'll have to replace the economical pair with another set soon, so you may save money in the long run by choosing shoes made with better materials and construction that won't need to be replaced as quickly.

9. Consider Generic

On the other hand, not all that glitters is gold: Quality products don't always come with a steeper price tag. That store brand item with the exact same ingredients on the shelf right next to the name brand item? They're probably interchangeable. Weigh your options and select the less expensive pick whenever possible to take some weight off your receipt.

10. Buy Secondhand When Possible

Secondhand shopping is not only remarkably less expensive, but it's also very on-trend. In the midst of revelations about the environmental impacts of fast fashion, the sustainability of buying recycled items has made thrifting a fashionable way to embrace frugal shopping. Ditch the fast fashion and enjoy your economic purchases—all while feeling that internal glow you get from reducing your carbon footprint.

Keep Your Credit Fresh

Rising prices can make it more tempting to put more everyday purchases on your credit cards, but that strategy can cause issues in the long run.

Your credit cards can earn you rewards for your shopping, but once the annual percentage rate (APR) kicks in if you don't pay off the balance quickly, you end up paying a bigger price for your purchases. So, be careful to only spend what you can pay immediately. Additionally, keep in mind that your credit utilization rate is a major component of your credit score; by paying off your spending as you shop, you can maintain a lower utilization—and, thus, potentially a higher credit score.

Your good credit score can help you save money if you do need to borrow to get through challenging financial periods. You can check your credit score for free through Experian to see where you stand.

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