Go ahead and celebrate Black Friday, but this one day is not your only opportunity to nab discounts. If you’re shopping around for a gadget, check out our guide to targeting the top tech deals. And beyond tech, you can use these shopping tools and tricks to save money on just about anything. From choosing the right stores to timing your purchases, we have advice to help you take advantage of discounts all year round.
Choose the right time to buy
When it comes to picking up discounts, you can’t beat basic research, be it physical or virtual. The more effort you put into researching prices and trends, rather than trying to take shortcuts, the better your chances of scoring a bargain.
Even before you’re ready to purchase an item you’re interested in, do your best to track its fluctuating price over time. You can do this through web searches or periodic trips to the mall. But keeping tabs on the prices of everything all of the time would be an exhaustive task. So narrow down your searches as much as possible, and let technology help. Online tools like The Traktor, for example, can show you which way prices are trending on Amazon: Just tap in an item name or Amazon URL to see how its cost has varied over the last few months. When it seems to be hitting a low point, go ahead and click “buy.”
As well as knowing your product, learn about key sales periods. We’ve just been thinking about Black Friday, but don’t forget the January sales, the back to school marketing push at the start of September, the discounts leading up to Christmas, and so on. If you’re after some winter gear, for example, you’ll get the best value by waiting until the start of spring to pick it up, because that’s when stores will be trying to sell off their winter lines to make room for summer stock. (Of course, you’ll have to wait nine months or so before you wear it.) Similarly, you can stock up on lighter clothing as the weather turns frosty, since that’s when it’s most likely to be on sale.
Use deal-finding technology
The growth of the internet has turned comparing prices into an art form, enabling keen shoppers to contrast dozens of stores with a click. Here are some websites, apps, and browser extensions that will help you track down goods at the lowest possible prices.
For a deals aggregator website, try SlickDeals, which brings the bargains to you rather than the other way around. Set up a free account and mark the products you’re interested in, and it will send you alerts about price drops.
Another website worth a bookmark is RetailMeNot. It displays trending deals on the front page, but also lets you search for specific items. The offers encompass coupon codes, cashback deals, seasonal shopping discounts, and more. Like with SlickDeals, you can receive alerts as bargains appear, by registering for a free account and subscribing to relevant email lists. In addition, RetailMeNot has an accompanying app (for Android and iOS) to help you find deals from your phone.
We’d also recommend a visit to BuyVia, which combines a deals aggregator with a price comparison service. It will make sure you’re not over-paying as well as sending you alerts when price reductions occur. The site and matching app (for Android and iOS) also offer discount codes and seasonal sales for a wide range of brands and retailers, including Levi’s, Adidas, Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon, Kohl’s, and GAP.
Finally, we’d like to mention two browser extensions: Honey and Piggy (available for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari). With browser add-ons, you don’t have to go looking for deals yourself: When you put something in your digital shopping cart on a supported site—such as Amazon, Kohl’s, Target, JCPenney, Nordstrom, and others—simply click the extension button. The plug-in will scour the web for discount codes and coupons and (if any are available) automatically apply them to your purchase. Honey and Piggy operate in very similar ways, and you can’t go wrong with either one. If your browser can handle it, consider installing both to make sure you’re finding all the potential discounts you can.
Get friendly with your favorite stores
The good news for bargain hunters is that retailers are just as eager to tell you about their deals as you are to buy them. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, subscribe to the social-media feeds from your favorite stores and keep an eye out for any special offers they might post. You can also sign up for a store’s email list to get offers and news delivered to your inbox.
To avoid email overload and social media fatigue, you will probably want to limit your outreach to just a few brands. In other words, get to know just one or two retailers very well, especially if they specialize in products you like. That way, in addition to digital outreach, you can learn where to find discounts, what time of year they usually appear, and so on. Hang around long enough, and you might even get to know staff members who can tip you off in advance about the best bargains.
If you think you’ll shop a lot at one particular place, then investigate its available rewards scheme or loyalty card program. However, don’t sign up for one of these right away: With retailers battling each other on price, you’ll want to retain the flexibility to choose different stores for different items, and a loyalty card might interfere with that ability. Just wait until you know that you’ll be using a store very regularly before going all in with it.
For example, if you sign onto the Amazon Prime membership scheme, which will set you back $99 a year, you receive perks like free two-day shipping on many goods, same-day delivery where it’s available, and access to Amazon’s music and video streaming services. In addition, you get some lesser-known savings opportunities: You can trade your speedy shipping for digital credit to spend on movies or music, and you get better access to the big discounts that become available on Amazon Prime Day each year.
Look beyond the major retailers
While the major retailers offer regular discounts and sales periods, heading off the beaten track yield big savings for a thrifty shopper. So invest some time and effort into researching alternative places to shop, places that might not be featured on price comparison sites.
For instance, check out flash-sale sites such as Gilt or Beyond The Rack. When you sign up for a free account, you can access some major discounts on well-known brands. The only catch: These sales typically last for only a few hours (hence the “flash sale” moniker). Your only challenge will be resisting the urge to buy stuff you don’t need just because it’s cheap.
Another shopping alternative is looking into second-hand products. Before hitting the regular retailers, check out thrift shops and consignment stores, as well as online resale sites like Craigslist and eBay. Worried about getting ripped off? If you’re buying online, you can follow these simple safety tips to minimize the risk of parting with your cash and getting a dud in return.
When it comes to finding a source for the products you need, try to think outside the box—you might fall into a big box store. If you’re buying something in bulk, like DIY materials or office supplies, then a business supplier might be able to give you better prices than a regular consumer store would.