33 Tiny Shopping Habits That Will Save You Loads of Money in the Long Run

These smart shopping tricks could help you save big time.

We all know the reality of shopping: You head to the store to pick up one thing, and somehow you end up at the cash register with a cartful of items you absolutely did not need. You intended on spending only $3 and yet by the time you leave the store, you're $75 in the hole. Retailers win, and it feels like you've lost. We understand the struggle—and we want to help you combat it. That's why we've compiled a list of smart shopping habits that your future self will thank you for.

Stick to a strict budget.

Person Calculating a Budget {Smart Shopping Habits}

Whenever you know that you're about to go on a shopping spree, take a few minutes to consult your finances and budget out a realistic amount of money to spend. You'll likely find that unnecessary impulse purchases fall by the wayside when you have clear parameters.

Use a budgeting app.

Man Using a Budgeting App on His Phone {Smart Shopping Habits}

Not only can budgeting apps help you create a budget based on your income, but using one allows you to "always know where you stand financially," writes Carla Dearing, CEO of online financial wellness service Sum180.

Her personal favorite? Mint. "Mint keeps an eye on your money for you. It even sends alerts to remind you to pay your bills or when you go over budget," Dearing explains.

Leave your credit cards at home.

envelope with cash, things that annoy grandparents
Shutterstock/Mattia Menestrina

If you're worried that you aren't going to be able to control yourself around a sale section, then leave your credit cards at home. Instead, calculate how much money you want to spend–or more realistically, can afford to spend—and take that amount in cash with you on your shopping trip. That way, spending beyond your means won't be an option.

Get all your shopping done in one trip.

woman shopping

Try to do all of your shopping in one area or, even better, at a single store. Retailers tend to offer more savings when you spend more. Plus, shopping within a small radius means that you'll be saving money on gas, too!

Shop at secondhand stores.

Worst Things to Say to Customer Service

Get into the habit of shopping for designer goods at secondhand stores. Though some people scoff at the idea of buying things pre-owned, many of the items sold at these stores are actually brand new or have barely been worn.

Shopping at a secondhand store definitely requires more time and effort to sift through the goods, but it's worth it in the long run when you're saving hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars.

Sign up for special rebate programs.

Woman looking at her phone while shopping at the mall

There are quite a few ways to actually make money just by going about your shopping as you normally would. If you love shopping online, then we suggest using Rakuten, where you can get rewarded with cash back by shopping on hundreds of sites. And if you prefer the brick-and-mortar experience, then you should check out Ibotta, a free shopping app that rewards customers with cash back simply for buying certain products and providing proof of purchase. This all might sound too good to be true, but true it is.

Get paid to be a mystery shopper.

Woman Shopping For Clothes {Smart Shopping Habits}

Mystery shopping is a bit different from earning cash back. Whereas rebate apps will pay you for doing your usual shopping, mystery shopping involves taking on an assignment—like buying something specific at a café or even pretending to shop for a car—and getting paid to thoroughly review that experience.

Though it can be time-consuming, this type of shopping is rewarding both in the sense that you get paid and because the assignments often involve meal reimbursements, museum trips, and other great perks. If you're curious to learn more about mystery shopping, check out The Penny Hoarder's guide to the best mystery shopping companies.

Invest in a few expensive staples.

Woman with a Louis Vuitton Bag {Shopping Tips}

Buying cheap, poorly-made clothing and handbags can result in the need to replace items again and again when they fall apart. Instead, save money by investing in more expensive pieces, ones that you can use or wear a lot without worrying about their longevity. Sure, seeing those $300 and $400 charges on your card statement won't feel great, but in the long run you'll be spending less on replacements.

Buy generic.

Diapers in Store {Smart Shopping Habits}

Going generic is a surefire way to get necessities at a fraction of the price. For example, you can spend half as much money while still getting the same quality on aluminum foil simply by going with Target's Up & Up brand instead of Reynolds Wrap.

Check the newspaper for coupons.

Man Reading the Newspaper {Smart Shopping Habits}

Every savvy shopper's favorite day of the week is Sunday. Why? Because that's when the newspaper comes with all the latest and greatest coupons. With the right coupons at the right store, you can easily score significant savings on all of your essentials.

Compare your coupons against stores' weekly deals.

Pile of Coupons {Smart Shopping Habits}

Coupons produce great savings on their own, but they're even more effective when used at the right store at the right time. For example, let's say you have a manufacturer's coupon for $2 off any 500-milliliter bottle of Listerine. If you use that coupon on a normally priced $5 container, you'll only be spending $3.

That's great, but you still might be missing out. If you check the weekly deals at CVS and Walmart, you might find that Listerine is 50 percent off at one of those stores. By using your manufacturer's coupon there, you'll only have to pay $0.50 total. It's savings on top of savings!

Buy everyday essentials before you run out.

an empty roll of toilet paper against a blue background {Smart Shopping Habits}

Don't wait until you're completely out of toilet paper and laundry detergent to buy more. If you do, you'll likely end up buying a full price product at the store closest to you, purely because of convenience.

But, if you strategize and stock up on all the necessities before things get dire, you allow yourself ample time to compare prices, stock up on coupons, and save as much money as possible.

Sign up for reward programs at your favorite retailers.

christmas traditions

Take advantage of the reward programs that many retailers offer for free. Though every company's perks program is different, many include great benefits like birthday month gifts, free shipping all year round, and exclusive discounts. At no cost to join, there's no harm in giving a rewards program a shot.

Trade in old clothes for great discounts.

Woman Donating a Box of Clothes {Smart Shopping Habits}

Kill two birds with one stone by donating some of your old items to retailers where you want to shop. Not only will this clear some space up in your closets for the new items you're about to buy, but many merchants—like Apple, H&M, Eileen Fisher, and Target—will even give you a discount on your next purchase just for bringing old, used objects in.

Stop spending money on books.

A Stack of Books {Smart Shopping Habits}

Read all you want—but save money doing it by going to the library. There's really no reason to spend some $20 on a hardcover book that you're going to use for a few weeks and never look at again. Many libraries are free, and they will almost certainly have any book you can possibly imagine.

Pay attention to clothing labels.

Woman Looking at a Clothing Label {Smart Shopping Habits}

That dress you're dying to buy might be gorgeous, but you should probably check its label before purchasing it. If it's "dry clean only," you'll be paying for that dress for weeks, months, and years to come. Dry cleaning is expensive, and all of those cleaning trips are going to add up.

Use shopping lists.

Woman Making a Grocery Shopping List {Shopping Tips}

Don't go to any store without a shopping list in hand. Impulse purchases are hard to resist, but it's a little bit easier to stay within your budget and avoid excess spending when you have a specific guide to keep you on track.

Find a credit card with great benefits.

credit card
dean bertoncelj / Shutterstock

It's important to do your due diligence before signing up for a credit card. A card that will reward you for your usual shopping could lead to free flights and great gift cards.

Not sure how to find the right card based on your spending habits? Let this guide lead you toward your match.

Only withdraw money at your bank's ATMs.

Withdrawing Money From an ATM {Smart Shopping Habits}

Though it's always ideal to carry cash over credit cards during a shopping trip, you should never take cash out at an ATM that isn't associated with your bank.

You may be tempted to ignore those $3 fees the ATM warns you about before you make your withdrawal, but heed them. If you were to take cash out from a Chase ATM with your Citibank card once a week for a year, for instance, you'd be wasting around $156. Ouch.

Never save your credit card numbers online.

woman at computer {Smart Shopping Habits}

When your credit card number is saved, you don't have to physically get up to retrieve your card to make an online purchase. In those minutes or even seconds that you have to get off the couch to get your wallet, you may realize what you're about to buy is not really worth it.

In removing any and all of your saved credit card numbers from your computer and online accounts, you are essentially forcing yourself to reflect on every online purchase you make. You'd be surprised how much money you spend just because it's easy to!

Bring your own bags.

Reusable Shopping Bags {Smart Shopping Tips}

In cities like Los Angeles and New York, stores are required to charge a monetary fee when customers request a paper or plastic bag. Throughout the course of a year, these charges can seriously add up.

Not only is using a reusable bag a small but significant move in the fight against climate change, but some stores will reward you for doing so. When you bring your own bag to Trader Joe's, for example, you're entitled to fill out a raffle ticket for a daily or weekly drawing to win a gift card.

Wait 30 days to make purchases.

Woman Thinking {Smart Shopping Habits}

Whenever you see something at the store that you feel like you absolutely need, force yourself to wait 30 days before making a decision about buying it. "If, at the end of a month, the urge is still there, then consider purchasing it," writes J. D. Roth, creator of the website Get Rich Slowly. "You aren't actually denying yourself—you're simply denying gratification."

Do your holiday shopping a year in advance.

Woman talking on the phone while holiday shopping

Though you probably don't want to do your Christmas shopping on December 26 or your Halloween shopping on November 1, you can save quite a bit of cash by doing so. Demand for holiday items decreases as soon as that holiday is over, and stores will significantly discount their seasonal inventory just to try to get rid of it.

Sure, you'll have to spare some storage space for those Christmas gift bags and pounds of chocolate bars, but it's a small price to pay for 75 percent savings.

Never pay for shipping.

Packages on a Person's Doorstep {Ikea Shopping Tips}

Even if you're doing your shopping online, make sure that you're not paying for shipping. You should either buy enough to qualify for free shipping, or you should purchase your items online and pick them up in the store—free of charge.

Always wait for items to go on sale.

Sign For End Of Season Sale {Smart Shopping Habits}

If you play your cards right and have patience, then you should never be paying retail prices. Even if you need a formal dress for a wedding or a swimsuit for a beach vacation, you'll always be able to find great items at a discount—so long as you leave yourself time to shop around.

Buy basics in bulk.

Switching up underwear Never Buy

Only purchase socks, underwear, and other essential undergarments when you can find them in bulk. These items go unseen, so don't splurge on individual La Perla thongs or knee-high socks when you can get a three-pack of Hanes for $24.

Don't buy things you'll only use once.

beaded clothing {Smart Shopping Habits}

For those occasions when you need something formal that you'll never wear again, use a rental service like Rent the Runway to borrow an outfit at a fraction of the retail cost. Not only will you save money, but you also won't have to worry about dry cleaning or storing that pricey piece.

Go to the dollar store.

Dollar Store {Smart Shopping Habits}

Don't underestimate the value of a dollar—or of a dollar store. From paper plates and potato chips to shampoo and socks, dollar stores are stocked with almost everything you could ever imagine wanting or needing, and all at super reasonable prices.

Buy items when they're not in season.

Woman shopping sales online in her living room

Buy winter coats in the spring and swimsuits in the fall. Stores often hold great end-of-season sales, during which these staples will drop to their lowest prices. Transitional periods are the perfect time to stock up!

Take a basket instead of a cart.

Woman Holding a Shopping Basket at the Store {Smart Shopping Habits}

Or, better yet, don't take anything at all and just carry all your items by hand. The bigger your vessel, the more room you'll have for unnecessary and superfluous goods.

Never buy something just because it's on sale.

holiday sales

If you weren't already going to buy something, then don't buy it solely because it's well-priced. Though it seems like you're getting a great deal, the reality is that you're actually wasting money on something you wouldn't have bought otherwise.

Always double-check your receipt.

Woman Looking at her Receipt {Smart Shopping Habits}

Sometimes an item accidentally gets rung up twice or a cashier forgets to apply a discount in the chaos of checkout. Mistakes happen and nobody's perfect, so be sure to confirm that the amount you're being charged is correct.

Only buy items that actually fit.

Sale section by fitting rooms

It's not worth buying a pair of pants on sale if they're only available in a size too small or a size too big. Sure, you can tell yourself that you're going to lose the weight or that they're going to shrink in the wash. But the reality is that every time you put those pants on, you're not going to like how they fit.

And there is no price that can validate buying an item that will never see the light of day. So even though they're on sale, they're still a huge rip-off.

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