The golden rule is: don’t buy what you don’t need – even if it is on sale!

The silver rule is: read the small print! The legal foundation to buying is caveat emptor: ‘let the buyer beware’. Do your homework. Sure the vendor is responsible for correct advertising and so on, but finally, it’s your responsibility. Legal troubles generally cost more than the problem is worth.

Buy clothes from secondhand/ thrift stores. Since 1999, I haven’t bought anything new apart from undies, socks and shoes. Not infrequently I’ve bought 3-5 items (jeans, pants, shirts, jumpers and so on) for a total of $30.

Keep your eyes open. When your local council has a verge cleanup: that’s opportunity knocking with a brass band and a loudspeaker! Items I’ve found include a couch, bed frame, and line-trimmer (aka a whipper-snipper). My prize pickup, though, was a computer with XP Professional! It came complete with keyboard, monitor, mouse and a CD burner. I’ve also picked up speakers, a scanner and a webcam: all perfectly serviceable and presentable. The software I was able to download legally and for free.

Regular shopping: groceries etc.

Check brands – many different brands are made by the same company, and there’s very little difference between them. Laundry powder for example: Colgate-Palmolive makes Cold Power, Fab and Spree; Unilever makes Drive, Omo and Surf; and Planet Ark makes Planet Ark and Aware. Going by the information on the packaging, some of them (made by the same company) seem to be exactly the same product: Fab and Spree, for instance, have the same ingredients. The only difference between them and Cold Power is that Cold Power has one gram more phosphorus (4.1 grams) ‘per wash’ than the other two (3.1 grams). (As people don’t exactly measure the amount of powder for each wash, ‘per wash’ is only an approximate amount.)

Know when to go shopping: most people shop on Thursdays (late nights) and Saturdays, products are likely to be more expensive. Go towards the end of the day, when most products, towards the end of their ‘best before’ date, will be marked down.

The most expensive products will be at eye-level.

Beware of buying ‘brand name’ clothing: it isn’t necessarily better.

Beware of impulse buying: the chocolates and magazines at the checkout, as well as the items at the ends of the aisles. Make a list of what you need and stick to it.

Buying fruit – try weekend markets: they tend to be much cheaper and better quality than supermarkets.

Rarely-bought goods.

Despite the tags, prices aren’t immovable. If you’re buying something over a hundred or so dollars – and you’re paying cash (this includes via direct debit, ask for a discount, as they most probably won’t offer it. Beds for example: you should be able to get them to take off 5% without blinking. 10% is reasonably common, and you could get 15% off if what you’re buying is expensive enough.

Shopping around.

How much you shop around depends on how rare and expensive the item is. If you’re only saving a few dollars, it probably isn’t worth it: you’ll spend more in petrol getting to other places. The more expensive the item is, the more worthwhile it is to shop around. I’ve known

Surf the net: eBay! Check a person’s sales history. If their customers haven’t been pleased with what they’ve bought from that person, ask why. You should be able to find their comments. Was the item not what they were promised? Did they package it poorly?

Talk to other people about where they got good service and bargains.

How to pay.

Don’t buy something unless you can pay cash: the one exception is a house/ flat etc. Another possible exception is a car.

This means:
Avoid using credit!

Use direct debit: get a debit-credit card, so you can’t spend what you don’t have.

copyright 2007 Troy Grisgonelle.