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6 Ways To Be a Smarter Shopper

Shopping sales


Let’s face the music, retailers are constantly coming up with ingenious ways to separate you from your hard-earned money. Some strategies are patently obvious and some are very subtle. In either case, it is important that you raise your awareness in order to avoid falling prey to their tactics. With that said, here are six strategies to ensure you become a smarter shopper.

1. Beware of Warranties and Rebates

Let’s start with extended warranties. Be aware that buying an extended warranty on new consumer electronics is historically a bad move. Take for example a new $400 television. In order for the $50 extended warrant to be a smart move, the probability it will breakdown has to be much greater than the chance you can’t afford to fix or replace it. For the major majority of shoppers, insuring a $400 TV does not justify the possible risk of it breaking down. Also, there is obviously a reason the sales folks at Best Buy relentlessly push extended warranties. They are major money makers for them and they wish all consumers would buy them. Believe me, they have run the numbers and clearly know they are sucker bets for us shoppers. Don’t fall for it.

As for rebates, they are nothing more than a trick to get you to make the initial purchase. View them as nothing more than a way for retailers to test your willpower and memory. They are banking on a certain percentage of people either not filling them out or just plain forgetting about them. If you think you are a bit of a procrastinator or have a propensity to forget about mailing in rebates, stay away and look for a flat “percentage off” sale to get your savings at the checkout register instead of a few months down the road.

2. Don’t Let Your Senses Be Seduced

Many stores use pleasant smells and music to try and envelop you into a world of over-spending. Jewelry stores notoriously have halogen lights shining brightly on diamonds to bring out even more sparkle. They are clearly trying to get into your wallet through your senses. Studies have shown that retailers successfully use these tricks to get shoppers to linger longer and spend more. Be aware of this the next time a store makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside because when you make a purchase and get it home, the value of the merchandise is no different than if you bought it at a fluorescent lit discount store.

3. Beware of the Word “Free”

Everyone loves “free”. What’s not to love, right? Well for one thing, free things often have a catch and are nothing more than a trick to get you to spend more of your hard-earned money. Consumers get so enamored with the word “free” that they often end up tailoring there spending around it and end up spending more. My favorite example is free shipping that many online retailers offer. In many cases, there is a minimum threshold required to get free delivery, say $50 for example. If your order total is $35 do NOT spend another $15 just to get free shipping! Most shoppers probably didn’t need or want the extra item and so they end up spending $15 just to avoid the $6.50 shipping charge. Not a very smart spending habit. I urge you to be aware of the word “free” as it can have some costly implications. 

4. Shopping With Friends? Be Careful

Time to dust off your intro to psychology book from college and look up the term “group-level consideration”. I’ll save you some heavy lifting and define it as a situation where individuals are more likely to allow a group of people to influence their decisions. So if you choose to go shopping with a group of friends who are heavier spender than you, it can be very easy to overspend yourself. If your friends all think it is cool to drop $200 on a new purse you can be easily influenced to think “Hey, why not, I deserve this purse too!” Problem is you’re probably going to regret it later when the credit card bill shows up. Bottom-line, stick to your budget and do NOT let other influence your buying decisions, even if this means only shopping alone.

5. Shopping Online? Use the Search Box Only

I found this one really interesting. When shopping online for a specific product, make sure to only use the website’s search box to find your item. This means not browsing the entire product category. The reason? Well, according to a Massachusetts research firm shoppers are 3x more likely to make impulse purchases when browsing the entire product category. This makes total sense and I know I have fallen for this over the years. You are looking for a new digital camera and by browsing the entire category you not only buy a camera, but also a new carrying case and memory card that you really didn’t need but just couldn’t pass up.

6. Online Coupons with Minimum Order Requirement

You’re probably familiar with coupons that read something like “10% off your $100+ purchase”. I add them all the time to my website because some people are actually making larger purchases and they can help, but for the most part, I really dislike them. They are clearly ploys to encourage more spending. I would rather a retailer offer a flat 5% off coupon than a 10% off $100 or more and have voiced my opinion more than once, but unfortunately, to little avail. Just be aware that most retailers that offers these types of coupons will also occasionally offer coupons with no minimum purchase required. Make sure you stay patient and wait for one in order to maximize your savings.

About the Author: Kyle James operates Rather-Be-Shopping.com which has been helping shoppers maximize savings and make smart buying decisions since 2001.

Kim’s Comments: I did buy an  extended warranty once for a dorm size refrigerator. It broke, but I lost the paperwork. I was not only out a fridge, but money on the warranty as well. That was not one of my finer shopping moments!

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. A lot of great tips Kim, especially the “free” section. I think I’ve been guilty of that before.

    I also agree with you and I’m REALLY not a fan of extended warranties. They usually cover the period where the product is VERY unlikely to break, and will always be negative EV (as in they will cost more than you claim on average in the long-term).


  2. I bought the wife a new laptop and pc this past week and we opted out of the extended warranty plans. It made no sense to us ans we would have paid for the cost of the unit all over again. If something were to happen it was still worth it to fix it on our own or toss it and buy a new one again.

  3. The minimum order requirement always gets me. I recently bought two dress shirts instead of one to get free shipping. It’s easy to convince yourself you need the extra products when they throw in that free shipping.

  4. Great tips! Coupon codes that make me spend a certain amount usually hurt my budget. I just need to ignore those and only buy what I need.

  5. Good tips Kyle! I hate to pay for shipping, but it’s important to not spend more than you allocated to get the free shipping.

  6. I try to make a list every time I go shopping. If I don’t then I buy much more than what I intended. As for online shopping I’ll look at coupon or deal blogs and get sucked into all the “savings” only to buy things I don’t need!

  7. I would have to agree with the “free” trap. I have fallen for it more than once. Used to buy a bunch of make-up during times when they would give you free items but then I would never use it. It was such a waste! No more

  8. What an awesome post. I didn’t know impulse buys are 3 times more likely if you shop a category online rather than using the search bar…that’s great info! Thanks!

  9. Great tips, Kyle. Retailers spend a lot of money figuring out how to get us to spend more – and they clearly have done their homework. I used to get excited when I would get coupons for the 25% next purchase until I saw the fine print – must spend $100, etc. Tricky, tricky but you know it must work for them to consistently do it!

    • Very true Shannon. Those coupons are great for bigger orders but the majority of consumers aren’t making ginormous purchases everyday. The only time they make sense is if adding something to your order costs less than what your discount is going to be. Then you’ll come out ahead.

  10. I have become a online shopper when the prices meet my expectations. I will only buy when I get a big enough discount such as 1/3 to 1/2 off retail. I always want free shipping and no sales tax.

  11. I’m always amazed how few people send their rebates in. Seriously, is it that difficult? A few minutes and a stamp can save you $50 or $100.

  12. LOL, Kim on the extended warranty! I think I have bought an extended warranty a few times….it is totally NOT worth it.

  13. The other point about warranties is that you typically get an extended warranty with your credit card for free. If that’s the case it REALLY doesn’t make sense to pay for the one from the store.

  14. Indeed, be very aware of free! More often than not it comes tied with “baggage” just to entice one to purchase even more. If its not in the budget and you really don’t need it, then don’t buy it however “free” it is.

  15. I’m so guilty of adding items to my cart just to get free shipping! I recently found this site, if you’re on amazon and need just $1 more to get free shipping: http://www.shippingfiller.com

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