7 Shopping Tips to Save Money AND Time

Trying to save money when shopping often means spending a lot of time instead.  If you don’t like to shop or if you don’t have time to go from store to store, here are seven ways to shop thrifty without spending all your time.

photo by decor8

1. Shop with a list. Obvious? Yes, but it’s still true. Making your list ahead of time helps prevent guesswork and trips back to the store for something you forgot. If you keep to the list, you can avoid making impulsive buys.

2. Buy quality.  Some may say that being frugal means paying the lowest price, but I think it means getting the best value for your money.  Quality items work better and last longer.  You can buy one great pair of shoes to wear for years instead of going shopping to replace them every season.  Sure, there’s a time and place for temporary purchases. But in general, having fewer, better things means you spend less time to maintain and replace your stuff.

3. Know your brands.  It’s good to compare prices, but sometimes you need to be able to choose something quickly.  If you know which brands are usually the best deal, then you have a better chance of getting a value even if you don’t stop to compare prices that day.

4.  Shop at discount stores.  Instead of waiting for the sales, shop at places that always offer discounted prices.  Stores like Marshall’s or TJ Maxx offer everyday discounts on apparel and household goods.  You can browse the entire home furnishing department in just 10 minutes if you are looking for something in particular. The trick is not to get sidetracked by what you don’t need.

5.  Let the internet work for you.  Even when shopping locally, I first look at Amazon or Epinions to check prices and product reviews.  Are you waiting for the right price?  Amazon offers an RSS feed if you want to find sales on specific items.  Craigslist lets you subscribe via RSS to be notified of new posts matching your specific search (an RSS link is in the bottom right corner of the search pages).  I try to take advantage of free shipping offers to save a trip to the store. 

6.  Check the store’s return policy.  If you don’t have time to shop, you definitely don’t have time to deal with a difficult return policy.  Ask if you need the receipt, how many days you have, and if you can receive a full refund instead of store credit in case you return the item.

7.  Stick to the plan.  Department stores put the men’s section on the first floor by the door.  They understand most men just want to buy something fast, and not wander around the store browsing.  Let that be your strategy. Choose a time when the store won’t be so busy (not Saturdays), and then go.  Don’t get distracted by other good deals —  only come home with the item you planned to buy.

I used to go from store to store to find the best prices, but with the expense of time and gas, I don’t do as much comparison shopping as I used to.  Especially for groceries, I do more shopping at only one or two stores.  Have your shopping habits changed?  What do you do?

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. My favorite frugal AND time saving shopping strategy is to shop solo mio. My husband HATES to shop, so he tends to turn any trip into a game of Supermarket Sweep – which doesn’t bode well for comparison pricing. He also has a bad habit of impulse shopping. And I have a 4-year-old…’nuff said. So I leave the boys at home. I take a cup of coffee with me to the grocery store, which turns shopping into almost a luxury, as well as slows me down a little.

    When it comes to other shopping, we do it either on the internet or at thrift stores. My strategy for thrift stores is take a friend and try EVERYthing on. Also, our local Salvation Army has a 50% off day every week, so we only go on that day. As for the internet shopping, I’ll save something on a wish list or del.icio.us, sleep on it, talk it over with hubby, and read reviews if I can, before I actually submit the old credit card.

    We’re not perfect, it’s only in the last year that we’ve really been watching our money, but I’m convinced that using these strategies, plus the ones you’ve mentioned above, has cut our spending IN HALF, and has almost eliminated impulse spending.

    Emily in Ohio’s last blog post..Does This Sam’s Club Membership Make Me Look Bulky?

  2. smallnotebook says:

    I love shopping with coffee too Emily! I don’t know what made me first do that, and it’s hard to push the cart, but it’s so nice.

    Cutting your spending in half is an amazing accomplishment. Way to go!

  3. I use tip #5 all the time. I do my research online at home. I find I’m not swayed by slimy marketing schemes if I already know what I want before I go into the store.
    Another tip I use is to carry my cell phone. I all of the shopping with out the hubby. Being able to still communicate with him is handy.
    I do not make major purchases with my children either. They can be too much of a distraction.

    Dana’s last blog post..Advice for Visiting Walt Disney World

  4. I carry a running list of wardrobe items that I need to purchase. I also do this for my husband. Just last night we were in Kohl’s and found a pair of khaki (flat front) pants for him (on sale) and 2 dress slacks for me (buy one, get one free). 3 pair of pants for $70. We were thrilled and I crossed them off my list. Sometimes it may take me months or even a year to find the right item but I’d rather know that I’ll make good use of a purchase rather than buying on impulse and having it hang in the closet.

    Nancy’s last blog post..Menu Plan Monday #31

  5. smallnotebook says:

    Dana, I usually take Doug with me because he loooves shopping. Probably more than I do. We always have a specific item in mind though before we go.

    Nancy, I think that’s a really helpful idea. I’m more selective about clothes too, so that helps me know what I need.

  6. Love the shopping with a coffee idea :-)
    And, #2 is so true – since simplifying our wardrobe, I’m choosing quality clothing items over masses of cheaper things, and I think it will pay off over time.

    hopeathome’s last blog post..Shopping tool.

  7. Right along with what has all ready been said, I even had my children write down a list of what they needed vs. wanted before we went back to school shopping. We knew that they need more shirts vs. pants or vice versa. It really helped and kept me from buying too many things when they were not needed.

  8. I am definitely an advocate for finding out the return policy beforehand.
    I have learned that if you aren’t 99% sure of a purchase you should wait. I’ve had a clerk tell me “yes you can return it” only to find out she was mistaken. In my case, management apologized but didn’t make ammends.

  9. I did all that tonight and STILL spent $300! Oy!

  10. When it comes to groceries I do no comparison shopping. Saving TIME is key! I am not a big fan of shopping so I do most of my non grocery or basic household items shopping online. Way easier! I love reading reviews of everything first and with the help of my friend google I’m pretty good at finding where to buy things cheapest and getting free shipping codes. With two little kids it is just not that much fun going to stores. We’d rather spend our days doing other things. Plus if it is clothes I’d much rather try them on at my own home without screaming kids in a dressing room and then just mail them back at my convenience if they don’t fit!

    Andrea’s last blog post..4 Weeks And Counting But I Still Need HELP!

  11. smallnotebook says:

    Andrea, I can totally relate to the dressing room dilemma. I know it can be hard with one child, I hadn’t thought about two or more!

  12. Take cash. When I grocery shop I use only the cash bugeted for that week. I have to make it spread between the grocery store, the local produce stand, and the bread store. IF we eat out that week it has to come from that money as well. It gives the whole family the motivation to save and not ask for extra’s to be thrown in the cart during the trip.

    As for clothes shopping with kids, take someone else, not dad*, along. I take my mom-in-law. At Easter, she does the dressing/appoving and I do the running back and forth between racks. We switch roles in the fall since I know all of the school’s silly little dress code rules. If you take a friend who also has children, leave hers at home and then return the favor next week.

    *This is in the reference to the typical dad who believes that you walk into the store, pick out one thing, love it, and wear it ’til you die.

  13. For me, the big one recently has been to buy quality. And what I’m finding is that when I do this, I am happier with whatever it is that I’ve purchased. And, it’s something I can enjoy. The quality is worth it, even if it costs more.

    The list thing I could work on. I go to the grocery store without a list. I do follow what I wrote above about buying quality. But, I still might buy something that I hadn’t intended to buy, because I see it. A list would help.

    Good reminders!

    Lance’s last blog post..What We Learn From Winning

  14. Quality vs. price can sometimes be an issue in grocery shopping, too. I’d rather pay a little more for perishables that aren’t going to perish the day after I buy them! I’m lucky to have a grocery store within walking distance of my house, and I go there and to the farmers’ market – no place else.

    alexandsam’s last blog post..Marching Thunder

  15. When I grocery shop, I usually try to keep a running tally of my bill. If I hit the limit, I start taking the least necessary items out of my cart to stay within budget.

    Craigslist and Freecycyle are also great tools for finding bargains/free stuff I need.

    Finally the best tool of all is to try and make due as long as possible, putting off the purchase.

  16. smallnotebook says:

    Good point, Holly.

  17. I am forever trying to reduce, reuse and recycle but when I’m buying I will remember your tips! Thanks!

  18. My husband and I went grocery shopping together today and had this same discussion. We buy mostly organic so our bills are high, but we still would like to get better about comparison shopping especially since organic products are becoming more available.

    Alana @ Gray Matters’s last blog post..Vanity Bench Makeover

  19. That is a great list! I have trouble with number two- I like to be trendy and being cheap is the way to go when you try to be more trendy. I invest in classics, but buy junk items every year to round out the wardrobe :)

    Wonderful ideas!

    Amy’s last blog post..Amy’s Notebook 09.11.08

  20. I like to shop on Monday or Tuesdays. My daughters get dropped off at dance class and I also head to the grocery store with my cup of coffee! Early in the week, the stores mark down their meats that have an expiration of Wednesday or Thursday. Since I freeze everything I have no problem with buying meats with stickers of X$ off and I save a TON of money this way.

    Also don’t be shy about asking the butcher to cut up cuts for you. Recently pork roasts were on sale for $1.89 a pound – and they were all as long as one of my legs! I asked the butcher to cut them into chops for me and now I have frozen enough pork chops for 4 separate meals for a grand total of $18.50 – and it costs nothing extra for the service!

    Kris’s last blog post..Sticky Tupperware and other hints…

  21. Couldn’t agree more with the “Stick to the Plan” tip. I’m a terrible impulse buyer. I’d heard, for example, that you should eat before going grocery shopping. Worked for me…I definately come home with less junk food that way.

    saving-money-too’s last blog post..insurance money saving tip – raise your deductible

  22. Emily, I’m the opposite I leave my girlfriend at home she’s so impatient she won’t bother comparison shopping and she gets distracted by “pretty things”.

    I would say shopping when you’re not hungry is important. Use a list. Don’t buy groceries just because they’re on sale it’s more important to use something.

    Bankruptcy Benjamin´s last post…FFJ-Earn Extra Cash