Saving Money with Comparison Shopping

Comparison Shopping

The following is a contribution from Edward Antrobus. If you’re interested in contributing to Frugal Rules, please consult our guidelines and contact us.

Recently, I embarked on a quest. Instead of getting ideas from other personal finance bloggers, I wanted to get the opinions of average people on the topic of frugality. I started asking friends and coworkers one simple question: what is your favorite way of saving money? When I asked Charlie, his answer was comparison shopping.

Charlie recently remodeled his kitchen. Kitchen remodels are one of those expensive things that everybody knows they need to shop around to get the best price. For most people, that is getting the best quote from a general contractor or the best price on a couple of big ticket items such as the cabinets or flooring. Charlie priced every single thing he bought, down to the nails. He also acted as his own general contractor and hired out sub-contractors, getting them to bid against each other. He figures he shaved a grand off his costs by being a savvy shopper.

Okay, so you should be comparison shopping. But how do you go about it? Sure, sale prices are easy to compare with sales circulars that come in the newspaper or can be found online. But for regularly priced items, you could spend more in gas driving to different stores than you might save.

Who has the best price for horizontal blinds? I recently had to replace the blinds in my home office and there are ten different stores in town that sell them. To check each one would have involved driving about 40 miles and spent the better part of a day. That’s an awful lot for a purchase under $10. As it turns out, K-Mart had the best price at $4.99 for my 35” window. That was half the price for a basic horizontal blind compared to Home Depot.

Comparison Shopping with Online Stores

Pretty much everything I buy these days, I price online.  Do I need to replace a window fan? I can find out the price from K-Mart, Walmart, and Target in 5 minutes. Or maybe a better price can be found online. Ebay, Amazon, and Google Shopping will tell me in just a few more clicks.

Sometimes, I will have a list of items I need to buy. Maybe I have a home improvement project going on. Chances are, no single store will have a lock on the lowest cost for each item on the list. By using online stores to comparison shop, I can plan out my stops, starting with the store farthest away and working my way back home. No back-tracking, or returning to a store I’ve already left because they were cheaper; most importantly, no finding a cheaper price after I’ve already made my purchase.

But this tactic doesn’t work with just home improvement items. I use the same tactic with groceries. Several large supermarket chains are adding home delivery options to their list of services. What began as a service for shut-ins and urban dwellers can now be utilized by more people than ever. I don’t actually use the service myself, but it is handy for comparing prices online.

I already know that meat is cheaper at my local Albertsons than the King Soopers I do most of my shopping at. But some items are purchased only for special occasions. Is my regular grocery store the best place to buy wonton wrappers? It turns out not.

Comparison Shopping with Smartphone Apps

Another new development in the world of comparison shopping is smartphone apps. Whether you have an iPhone or Android, there are several apps that will scan a bar code and tell you if there is a better price somewhere else.

There have been plenty of times in my life that I have been out shopping and remembered an item that I forgot I needed. I’m not going to go back home to check prices online. But there is no guarantee that the store I am at will have the best price. Now, there’s an app for that. I just whip out my phone and scan the barcode.

 

Do you ever try comparison shopping? What other methods do you use to make sure you are getting the best deal?

Editors note: Edward offers some great advice! My wife and I regularly find ourselves comparison shopping when contemplating purchases. Thankfully we can do that on the go with my smartphone and save ourselves money.

 

The following was a guest post from Edward Antrobus. Edward is a construction worker, blogger, tinkerer, and househusband. He writes about frugality and occasionally rants about what he thinks the personal finance community gets wrong.

 

Photo courtesy of: Robert Linder

 

 

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About the author:

I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. You can connect via Twitter / Facebook.

30 comments on “Saving Money with Comparison Shopping

    • Oh, I always Google for coupons before grocery shopping. It is a pain how many of the results are outdated. One trick I’ve learned is to go to Search Tools and change “Anytime” to “Past Month”

  1. We are always comparison shopping for everything we buy even if we don’t know we are. There’s something in our brains that automatically says, can I get it cheaper, better quality etc etc. We like to get the best deal and bang for our buck so we aren’t spending more than we need to. Another great point is when comparison shopping don’t be shy to negotiate a better price… Cheers!
    Canadian Budget Binder recently posted..Too Many Bills Not Enough Money Each Month-$100 CASH GIVEAWAYMy Profile

    • Good point on negotiating. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. I was at the grocery store last night to pick up my wife and witness a guy get a manager to knock a third of the price off a Christmas tree!

  2. We’re kind of low-tech when it comes to comparison shopping. Well, I should say that only applies to groceries. For online purchases I check out every site I can think of before making a decision. For groceries, it’s a bit different as we go to our favorite store Trader Joe’s every week. We’ve got it down into a routine haha – Farmer’s Market – Trader Joe’s – Mitsuwa (Japanese groceries store) and occasionally followed up by Ralph’s. It is because we go to these stores every week that we’re already familiar with the prices and know exactly how much everything costs at each store. There are also food quality criteria we judge besides making decisions on a whim of price difference. For example, we love our meats from Mitsuwa and will never buy them at Ralph’s no matter the price difference (well, unless one day they all go nuts there and double the prices or something)

    I’ve also used Google Shopping to compare prices on electronics. Since Google shopping pulls prices from most major retailers and some smaller ones online, it’s much faster than going to their websites individually.
    Veronica @ Pelican on Money recently posted..Powerful Lessons Learned in Starting an Online Store (Part 2)My Profile

    • I’m pretty sure Ralph’s is part of the chain my wife works for. They are a Kroger brand, right? Not that I’ve ever gotten into Japanese cuisine, but pretty cool that you have a Japanese grocery. We’ve got Indian and Thai out here (and conveniently across the street from each other!)

    • Have you ever tried checking prices on more regular purchases to see if another store may be a better price for that? My mother bought milk at the grocery store for years before discovering that the convenience store around the corner was actually cheaper!

  3. I don’t have a smart phone. That would be handy, but I use the store’s website or the circular in the paper to compare grocery prices. For other item’s online makes it really easy to compare, and I always check Ebay before making a purchase.

  4. Hi John. Comparison shopping is really practical. This is one advantage in online shopping. You can compare costs and features as well as benefits. Trying all available techniques is needed to achieve cost-efficiency.

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