A typical day in the life of Brittney: Check Instagram, see a “Netflix and Leave Me Alone” T-shirt, think This is a bada$$ T-shirt, click the link for said T-shirt, contemplate whether to get the T-shirt. Go to a bachelorette party, experience a chambong, love the chambong, want to get the chambong. Scroll through Pinterest, see a Lululemon sports bra that is LEGIT, go to Lululemon store, balk at price of said bra. Still think about getting the bra.
My point? I like to shop. And I’m always astonished when people think that, because of my profession as an accountant and side hustle as a blogger, I must not. Even those of us who have a good handle on our money are not immune to the pull of “stuff.” I like stuff, guys. Just like so many of you.The difference, though, between me and those who struggle to keep shopping habits in check lies in this fact: I’ve found ways that allow me to have all those things I really want and still have money in the bank at the end of the day. I know, sounds like a dream come true, just like calorie-less cupcakes. Except this dream is real, and pretty simple. And it’s one I’m going to share with you right now.
So here they are, my friends, the top five hacks I personally use to save hundreds (literally hundreds) per year while shopping.
1. Give it the one-week rule.
Here’s the truth of the matter: Sometimes when you’re out shopping, especially when with friends, you get what I deem as “mall goggles.” Mall goggles sometimes make you buy stuff that really doesn’t fit that well, or that you don’t need, or that you don’t even like that much. It happens to the best of us, which is why a few years ago, I came up with the 1 week rule. Whenever I buy something new, I keep it in the bag and set it next to a chair in my bedroom for a full week. I don’t get it out, I don’t look at it –- I just leave it by the chair. At the end of the week, I pull it out, and if I’m still in love with it, I keep it. If not, back into the bag it goes to be returned to the store.
My logic behind this is simple: There’s no reason to waste your money on dresses or shoes or watches that you don’t absolutely love, and that week-long grace period gives you enough time to remove the mall goggles and decide whether that item is still worth your hard-earned dollars. This is seriously the one thing that has saved me the most money in all my years of shopping. You would not believe how many bad purchases I’ve taken back — it’s almost embarrassing what those mall goggles have done to me.
Helpful tip: In order to make this work, you need to make sure you’re buying stuff well in advance of an event, so that you don’t end up having to wear (and keep) something you don’t love. I’ve been there before, and it’s burned me hard. Ok, actually been there, kept the tags on the dress, wore the dress, and returned it the next day. (It was not my proudest moment. Please don’t tell anyone.)
2. Get to the gym.
This is going to sound absolutely ridiculous, but it works for me time and time again: Go shopping after you’ve had a hard gym session. Throw your hair in a ponytail, skip the makeup, and get the death stares from the ladies dressed like the Real Housewives. When you look less than your best, you won’t have your pretty face or gorgeous hair fogging up your opinion on what otherwise would be just an okay outfit. Or a crappy outfit, depending on how great your hair and make-up look.
If something looks good on you when you’re post-gym sesh (or anytime you look like you just wrestled with a two year old, and haven’t showered for 3 days), it will look amazing on you when you’re dressed to the nines. And those are the outfits worth spending money on.
3. Crunch the numbers.
I read about this strategy a couple of years ago, but it really has worked for me when I’ve been going back and forth about whether to buy something: You need to think of each item you are purchasing as having a cost per use. Let’s say you fall in love with a dress. A beautiful, white dress that you can only wear to non-wedding related festivities, unless you want an angry bride on your hands. It’s only $100, but to be honest, you’ll probably only wear it two times because how many non-wedding events do you go to? The cost per use is $50.
Now, let’s look at a pair of gym shoes. These are also $100, but you workout four times a week and expect them to last a good nine months before they are shot. That’s 144 uses, bringing the cost per use to roughly $0.70.
Both the dress and the shoes were the same price, but which is the better buy? It’s metrics like these that have really put some of my “almost purchases” into perspective and saved me from having a closet full of white dresses that I can’t wear to anything. Ever. And it also justifies spending your money on quality items you will use all the time, instead of heels you can only stand to wear for two hours. Because if you’re going to splurge, the high-use items are the things you should splurge on.
4. Sign up for Ebates.
Now, as much as these tips help, there comes a time and a place you simply have to buy something. It’s inevitable, and it’s okay. However, I’m a proponent of getting the best deal when possible, which is where Ebates comes in.
Ebates works like this: For referring customers from their website, they receive a percentage of anything purchased from the participating online stores. A portion of the kickback they receive goes back into your pocket –- um, hello, win/win situation.
Here’s how I use it. Let’s say I’m online shopping for myself or a friend’s birthday or Christmas gift and find a pair of boots I like at Nordstrom for $150. Love them. I’m going to get them. Before I put them in my shopping cart on Nordstrom’s website, though, I check Ebates to see if they’re offering any cash back deals. Luckily enough, they’re currently offering 2% cash back, meaning just for going through their site, I’m saving $3. So I click the link on Ebates’ site, find the boots on Nordstrom’s site, add them to my cart, and watch my Ebates cash back balance increase. SUPER. EASY.
Now, I know $3 sounds small, but all those little purchases throughout the year can add up. I mean, think of how much Christmas shopping you do online. And some kickbacks are much higher — Sephora was up to 8% this past week. Um, yes, please.
5. Use the Honey app.
Shout out to my friend Holly for throwing this one my way, because as easy as it is to save money with Ebates, this is even easier.
You know how you normally have to spend time scouring Retail Me Not, Coupon Sherpa, and seven other websites to try to find a coupon code for something you’re buying? Well, the Honey app does all that for you.
All you have to do is download the browser extension in Chrome, and Honey will work in the background every time you’re shopping to find you the best deals. All you do is fill up your cart, and when you go to check out, Honey will pop up and let you know if there are any coupon or promo codes available for you to use. If you’re an avid Amazon shopper, it even compares sellers on their site to find you the lowest deal when considering taxes, shipping, etc. Again, you’re saving money for doing nothing. And we all know that’s the best kind of saving.
Brittney is a CPA in Indianapolis who loves any & all carbs and in her spare time runs the blog Britt & the Benjamins, which is focused on helping people, especially women, achieve financial independence and kill it in their careers.
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